Lindsey Graham Lobs Disingenuous Attacks At Chuck Hagel

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC)

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) on CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday attacked former Republican senator Chuck Hagel, reportedly President Obama’s choice as the next Defense Secretary, calling him a “controversial pick” and suggesting that Hagel is out of the mainstream.

Graham’s evidence? He didn’t offer much in the way of specifics, of course. Rather, the South Carolina Republican claimed Hagel is “very antagonistic toward the state of Israel” (again, not saying how) and complained that Hagel said “you should directly negotiate with Iran” (we’re not sure why this is a bad thing. President Obama believes this as well) and that sanctions on Iran “won’t work.” Graham also cited the fact that Hagel has promoted talks with Hamas, the terrorist group that runs Gaza. Watch the interview clip:

But is Hagel “antagonistic” toward Israel? Hardly. The Nebraska Republican has a history of strong support for Israel, as this blog recently noted. “At it’s core,” Hagel wrote in his book, America, Our Next Chapter, “there will always be a special and historic bond with Israel exemplified by our continued commitment to Israel’s defense.”

But Graham is right. Hagel has supported negotiations with Iran. But so does President Obama and so do a majority of Americans. Hagel has indeed suggested that some sanctions on Iran are counterproductive but he has also supported sanctions on the Islamic Republic during his tenure in the Senate and in March, 2012, he said the U.S. should “keep ratcheting up the sanctions” and try to maintain the international coalition Obama has built against Iran. “Hagel’s positions [on Iran] may put him on the fringes of the Senate,” the Daily Beast’s Ali Gharib wrote last month, “but he’s firmly in the mainstream of expert opinion, from Israel to the Pentagon.”

And why does Graham attack Hagel for promoting talks with Hamas when Israel has negotiated with the terror group and high-level Israeli officials have said Israel should hold future talks? “People ask, why not talk with Hamas? There is nothing wrong, if you get a reply,” Israeli President Shimon Peres said last month. “We are willing to talk to Hamas, but they aren’t.” Moreover, former Israeli intelligence chief Efraim Halevy has for years advocated negotiating with Hamas.

Senator Graham also attacked Hagel for opposing President Bush’s troop surge in Iraq in 2007. “I’ll have a hard time voting for anybody to be Secretary of Defense who believes that the surge was a foreign policy blunder,” Graham said on CNN today. But Graham also said during the same interview that he supports Sen. John Kerry’s (D-MA) nomination as the next Secretary of State. “I respect him,” Graham said of Kerry, adding, “I think he’s a thoughtful man. I think he’s in the mainstream.” But who else thought the Iraq surge was a bad idea? John Kerry (and Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama). And while it’s unclear what effect Bush’s surge had on the ultimate outcome of the war, one thing is clear: Graham’s continued Iraq war boosting is way outside the mainstream, as a large majority of Americans think the war was not worth fighting.

President Obama is expected to announce Hagel’s nomination as early as tomorrow and until his confirmation, we should expect similar disingenuous and baseless attacks. But Hagel — “a decorated war hero who would be the first enlisted soldier and Vietnam veteran to go on to serve as secretary of defense” — should be confirmed. Indeed, prominent journalists, retired military brass, former national security advisers, former U.S. ambassadors and veterans and military families think so too.