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Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Bret Stephens: Chuck Hagel's Courage

Source: The Wall Street Journal
By Bret Stephens
Submitted by Dan Friedman, NYC


A brave soldier who knows how to be on the right side of conventional wisdom.

The surge turned out to be George W. Bush's finest hour—a genuine instance of political courage as opposed to Mr. Hagel's phony ones. It rescued the U.S. from humiliating defeat. It gave Iraq a decent opportunity to stand on its feet. It allowed the U.S. to conduct an orderly withdrawal of its forces. And it might have led to a long-term security relationship with Baghdad had the Obama administration not fumbled the endgame. Again there is no public record of Mr. Hagel acknowledging any of this.

Moving forward, in 2008 Mr. Hagel endorsed engagement with Syria's Bashar Assad and North Korea's Kim Jong Il, and he was especially keen on engagement with Iran, enthusing at one point that "Iran had rights for women long before many countries in the world. Women could vote, I actually think before they could vote in America." (He's wrong: Iranian women were enfranchised only in 1963, thanks to the Shah.)

In each case, Mr. Hagel was articulating a view that was exactly in keeping with received Beltway wisdom. In each case, he was subsequently disproved by events. In no case was Mr. Hagel ever held to any kind of account for being wrong. In no case did he hold himself to account for being wrong.

Oh, by the way, in 1995 Mr. Hagel told the Omaha World Herald that his opposition to abortion was total and made no exception for cases of rape or incest—a view that helped get him elected to the Senate the following year. He later voted repeatedly against allowing servicewomen to pay for abortions out of their own pocket, according to the left-wing magazine Mother Jones. Now that Congress has authorized the Defense Department to pay for abortions in cases of rape, it would be worth asking Mr. Hagel if he has evolved on this one, too.

But give Mr. Hagel this: When it comes to expressing himself about Israel, its enemies, and the influence of the so-called Jewish lobby, he has been nothing if not consistent and outspoken. Maybe that's political courage. Or maybe it's a mental twitch, the kind you can't quite help. The confirmation process should be illuminating.

Write to bstephens@wsj.com