Chuck Hagel — not a war time consigliere [With Comments by John]

Good news. Chuck Hagel is out as Secretary of Defense, or will be as soon as a successor is nominated and confirmed. Let’s hope that any effort by the Republican Senate to block the confirmation of Obama administration appointees will exempt the Secretary of Defense position for national security reasons.

The reason for Hagel’s ouster (let’s not take seriously the claim that he wanted out) is said to be that Hagel was selected to preside over the winding down of wars and the scaling back of the military. Reality intervened, and now DoD is going in a different direction.

In other words, Hagel is not a war time Secretary of Defense. Only an unfit president would nominate such a man for the job formerly known as Secretary of War.

The reality, though, is that Hagel was never any kind of Secretary of Defense. As Al Campanis might have said, he lacks the necessities.

Why, then, did Obama select him? I continue to believe that he was thumbing his nose at Israel and attempting to stick it to the so-called Israel lobby. After all, other than his nasty remarks about Israel, what did Hagel bring to the table? Yes, he is a Republican and a Vietnam vet. These were nice touches, but surely not sufficient reason to entrust him with supervision of our national defense.

There’s an obvious parallel between Hagel’s firing after the 2014 election and the sacking of Donald Rumsfeld by President Bush in 2006. Apparently, President Obama has finally learned that he can learn from his predecessor. Maybe as he looks at the White House portrait of “W,” Obama asks himself “what would George do?”

Rumsfeld’s firing preceded a reversal of Iraq policy. In Hagel’s case, Iraq policy has already been reversed, though (if we are lucky) it will be modified further. In this sense, the sacking of Hagel, unlike that of Rumsfeld, seems mainly cosmetic and political, rather than substantive.

But let’s not overthink this. Hagel was always the wrong man for the job; he was simply in over his head, as we have often said. The wonder is his selection, not his ouster.

Speculation about a successor centers around Michèle Flournoy, a former under secretary of defense, and Ashton Carter, a former deputy secretary of defense. They were the two candidates I had hoped Obama would select from when he replaced Leon Panetta. If Obama chooses either, then, barring the surprise emergence of disqualifying facts, the Senate should quickly confirm.

JOHN adds: Paul is clearly right in saying that the wonder was Hagel’s selection, not his ouster. He was a bizarre choice for Secretary of Defense. And if we compare his firing to that of Donald Rumsfeld, we can only say that the second time is farce.

Yet I think there is a bit more to be said, and Max Boot puts it well:

[T]he very reason [Hagel] was so expendable was because he had so little influence: Unlike Susan Rice, Ben Rhodes, or Valerie Jarrett, he was not a White House insider.

Instead Hagel (like General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) was the good soldier, plodding ahead to carry out the president’s orders without question–no matter how little sense those orders made. …

Indeed one of the few times that Hagel dared in public (or probably in private) to talk back to the president, he earned the ire of Obama and his loyalists for telling the truth. While Obama earlier this year was denigrating ISIS as the “JV team,” Hagel was calling them an “imminent threat to every interest we have” and saying “This is beyond anything we’ve seen.” As the Times drily notes, “White House officials later said they viewed those comments as unhelpful”–Washington code words for the fact that Obama’s top aides were infuriated by Hagel’s truth-telling.

In my view, there is zero reason to think that Hagel’s ouster is a sign of a new, rethought, more realistic Obama foreign policy. On the contrary, Obama and his cronies are probably glad to see him gone, for exactly the wrong reasons.

Liberalism: Nihilist, Incoherent, or Both?

Victor Davis Hanson puts his finger on the core meaning of Grubergate with his most recent column referring to the Gruber types as “Snobocrats.” It is worth recognizing that Gruberism isn’t just simple elitism, but has an overlay of snobbery about how much better are the Grubers of the world than the grubby middle class on whose behalf the Grubers endlessly toil and fret.

But this should raise a curious question: why all this toil on behalf of a large class of stupid, unworthy people? It is clear the core of cultural liberalism is disdain for the American middle class. (Indeed it is tempting to say that the chief political class conflict in America is between the Grubers and the grubbers.) Why build up a middle class that will, at best, be ungrateful, and, at worst, vote Republican? Is Hanson right that the correct term for understanding the Grubers amongst us is snobbery rather than the old fashioned noblesse oblige?

One explanation is that liberals don’t really care about the middle class at all, and in fact would like to destroy it. This is certainly true of the radical left, but it is probably not the deliberate intent of the liberal political class. (Whether they perceive the destructive effects of specific policies on the middle class is a separate question. You must never rule out stupidity and ignorance as an explanation for liberal actions.) The alternative explanation is that modern liberalism is mostly about making liberals feel better about themselves (as well as collecting fat consulting contracts to manage the complexities they come up with). This is closer to the mark, but doesn’t go far enough toward understanding the deep roots of why snobbery is not just a compulsion for liberals, but is in fact essential to modern liberalism.

That idea is not original to me. Hanson’s article sent me back to a minor classic essay from 1973, by the late John Adams Wettergreen in the Western Political Quarterly: “Is Snobbery a Formal Value? Considering Life at the End of Modernity.” This is a dense theoretical essay, not recommended for light reading. Wettergreen homed in on liberalism’s Hegelian dimension, which held that the ideals of equality and individualism represented the “end of history,” and that practically speaking all that is left is the struggle to achieve more perfect equality, either through revolution, if you’re a Marxist, or through “Progressivism,” if you’re a modern liberal. (And in both cases these problems are seen mostly as technical in nature: hence the technocracy of the Grubers.) This is at the root of that familiar liberal cliché, “on the side of history.” Most liberals are unaware of the pedigree of this theme, but always proceed according to the presumption that it is unnecessary to argue the premise. For a liberal, the doctrine of Progress is simply above rational argument.

But the “New Left” of the 1960s recoiled from the implications of this. The French Hegelian quasi-Communist Alexandre Kojeves wrote that “The American way of life is not the life-style proper to the final State because it is too vulgar.” From here flowed much of the vocabulary of the 1960s about finding “authenticity,” which found its way into nearly every nook and cranny of our culture (much to the fury of the New Left) and gradually overtook mainstream liberalism. Consider, as just one example, Hillary Clinton’s infamous 1993 speech on “the politics of meaning,” which in a sense was just Jimmy Carter’s “malaise” speech on steroids. Hillary ratified the idea that government wouldn’t just tend to your material needs, but would heal your soul, too. Because we’re better than you are.

The supposed backwardness of the American middle class is oddly reassuring to liberals, because it ratifies their formal snobbery. But it is snobbery that compasses the incoherence of a liberalism that seeks to shore up the middle class it disdains, and the hypocrisy of scowling at middle class materialism while scooping up million dollar government contracts to manage Obamacare. It also explains the rage of liberals when their “wave of history” collides with a riptide “wave election” that leaves them stranded on a sandbar.

Iran’s win-win

The deadline for reaching a deal with Iran over its nuclear program expires today without the parties having reached a negotiated agreement. The negotiating period will be extended until July 1 of next year.

This development is being reported as “no deal,” but there actually is a deal of sorts here. According to the British foreign secretary, Iran will receive about $700 million per month in frozen assets. In exchange, it makes no concessions. Instead, the status quo is maintained with regard to Iran’s nuclear program.

In all likelihood, then, Iran’s economy will continue to expand. No longer will it experience the severe bite that caused it to come to the negotiating table. Thus, Iran will have even less incentive to make concessions than it has had in the run-up to the current stalemate.

Meanwhile, Obama will feel pressure to make additional concessions. Clearly, he wants a deal; otherwise he would have walked away in the face of Iran’s intransigence.

Obama wants a deal for his legacy. Two of the three major components of that legacy — Obamacare and Obamnesty — are subject to possible reversal. The third component — pulling out of Iraq — has exploded in his face.

Obama also wants a deal to reduce the likelihood of Israel attacking Iran. Short of a deal, Obama needs the negotiating process to continue for this purpose.

Finally, Obama envisages some sort of mega-deal with Iran, pursuant to which the mullah regime helps bring stability to the region. Iran’s posture in the nuclear negotiations would persuade anyone but a fool or a blind ideologue that a meaningful “grand bargain” is not to be had.

I’ll leave it to the reader to say which of these descriptons fit Obama.

Obama’s desperation has already driven him to make a series of concessions. Lee Smith catalogues them.

Among the concessions are these:

1. Obama has offered Iran a 10-year sunset period. After 10 years, any deal would be void.

2. Obama has given up on its demands that Iran enrich no uranium at all.

3. Obama has abandoned the demand that Iran must dismantle its centrifuges.

According to Smith, there are also reports that Obama may have given up on demanding that Iran fully disclose its past activities, including possible military dimensions of the nuclear program.

No wonder Iran wants to keep Obama at the negotiating table. The mullahs are in a win-win position. Either the status quo continues and Iran prospers or Obama eventually gives away the store.

The mullahs lose only if Israel attacks. Neither side wants that, so negotiations, such as they are, will persist.

The Power Line Show: Episode 2, With Tom Cotton and Bill Voegeli

Friday night we got the whole PL crew together for Episode 2 of the Power Line Show. We were joined by Senator-elect Tom Cotton and Bill Voegeli, author of The Pity Party. The president’s amnesty order and multiple email mysteries were the main topics of the day.

You can join Power Line VIP for only $4 per month or $40 per year. Click here to join. Not only will you get the soon-to-be exclusive Power Line show, you can view the site ad-free–a real luxury in today’s era of ever more intrusive internet advertising. We will never charge for this site or limit access to a certain number of articles per month, as so many others have done. But by joining Power Line VIP you can help support our work. We appreciate it!

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The ascent of FOX News, &c.

The rise of FOX News Channel to its place as a dominant source of news on television is easily one of the most consequential journalistic developments of the past 25 years. The Baltimore Sun’s David Zurawik has written a timely column taking note and paying tribute to FNC’s steadfastness along the way.

As the channel’s Washington managing editor and anchor of what he turned into the best news program in the land, Brit Hume had more than a little to do with the success of the enterprise. Bill Kristol has just posted an 80-minute Conversation with Brit Hume (video below) covering the start-up of FNC and Hume’s work there. The conversation then reviews Hume’s career in journalism and considers the state of media today (the interview is broken into chapters at the link above). Suffice it to say that if you are an interested consumer of political news, this is must viewing.

One key passage occurs at 55:00-59:00 as Hume discusses his desire to overcome the “Times-centric” view of television news, first as a reporter at ABC, then as a managing editor/anchor at FNC. Quotable quote: “After you got the hang of it, it was like picking up money off the street.”

U.S. to maintain Afghan combat role through 2015, but why?

President Obama has decided to authorize an active combat role for the U.S. military in Afghanistan for another year. This is a reversal. In May, Obama said that the American military would have no combat role in Afghanistan next year, and that missions for the troops remaining there would be limited to training Afghan forces and hunting the “remnants of Al Qaeda.”

However, now, as the New York Times reports, American forces will carry out missions against the Taliban and other militant groups in 2015. In addition, American jets, bombers and drones will be allowed to support Afghan troops on combat missions.

Regular readers know that I support an expansive U.S. military role in Afghanistan. But I don’t support such a role in 2015 unless our forces will also perform it thereafter.

If we’re going to withdraw after 2015, why expend American blood and treasure for another year? It’s impossible to believe that one more year of U.S. involvement will prevent the disaster that likely will follow the end of U.S. combat operations.

Obama has not ruled out a continuing U.S. combat role after 2015. And after 2016, the decision to withdraw or stay will be out of Obama’s hands.

But that’s precisely why Obama is unlikely to authorize continued fighting after 2015. He has always wanted to end American involvement in the Afghan war, seeing this as part of his legacy. In all likelihood, then, Obama will end the American combat mission after 2015.

Why, then, has he approved one more year of fighting? The answer, I’m pretty sure, is politics.

In his present politically-wounded state, Obama is not ready for a second Iraq-style foreign policy/security disaster. The Times article suggests as much.

By this time next year, Obama hopes, the tide won’t be running so strongly against him. In any case, he will be a true lame duck by then.

This, from Obama’s perspective, will be the best time to end the combat mission in Afghanistan and cement his legacy as ender-of-wars. It will be a pity if, in the meantime, Americans die for no better reason than Obama’s sense of optimal political timing.

More on “more than fair”

Yesterday, I wrote about the report on Benghazi issued by the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. The report found essentially no fault on the part of the CIA or the military in its response the attack in Benghazi — findings that I consider sound.

The report also finds that the administration’s subsequent narrative about the attack was the product of a “flawed” process. What’s more it finds that aspects of the narrative were inaccurate. However, it did not find willful deception or bad faith on the part of any administration official.

The administration and its supporters will, I assume, construe the lack of such findings as exoneration. They should not.

The Committee made no determination one way or another as to the motivation and thought processes of Susan Rice and other administration officials involved in the post-attack spin. It found neither bad faith and dishonesty nor their absence.

Why didn’t the Committee make such findings, one way or the other? The main reason, I suspect, is that the Republican members wanted bipartisan agreement as to the facts (including the fact that Rice’s comments were inaccurate). Keep in mind too that the House Intelligence Committee is something of an island of bipartisanship in the stormy seas of Capitol Hill, which is probably a good thing given the vital and sensitive nature of its work.

Republican members must also have been mindful that Trey Gowdy’s special committee is tasked investigating the Obama administration’s post-attack behavior, among other things. Thus, the honesty and good faith of Team Obama (or the lack thereof) remains the subject of an important, well-publicized House investigation. Indeed, by not opining on this subject, the Intelligence Committee invites Gowdy’s committee to focus sharply on it, and precludes any valid claim that the issue was resolved by another committee.

That said, I still would have preferred a report that was fair, rather than “more than fair,” to administration. For the reasons I discussed yesterday, such a report would have inferred bad faith and dishonesty by Rice and probably others. However, I understand why the Republicans on the Committee settled for less.

Team Obama and its friends in the media may try to create the impression that the administration has dodged a bullet on Benghazi. In reality, it hasn’t.

Rather, a bipartisan House committee has found that key statements by the administration about Benghazi were false. And it has left for Gowdy’s committee the task of determining Whether the false statements were bad faith efforts to deceive.