Imagine if Al Franken gave you a call and offered to fight you. A real fight, too—no gloves, no clock, and no rules.
Would you do it?
Rich Lowry, editor of National Review, would not. He explained it all in his sniveling and aptly titled piece “Why I Won’t Fight Al Franken.” Apparently in 2000 Franken was looking for a fight because Lowry had been publicly lamenting the way “liberals and feminists” were promoting “the feminization of America.” So Franken challenged him to put his money where his mouth was, and Lowry pussied out. It’s not that Lowry “feminized out”—he “pussied out,” which is how people who aren’t pussies would describe it.
When all of this happened, Lowry was 32 while Franken was 49 and had a bad back. Only a few months earlier, Jonah Goldberg (Lowry’s colleague at NR) had written a piece called “A Continent Bleeds” in which he advocated an American invasion of Africa. A few years later, right after the invasion of Iraq, Lowry would imply that after Iraq should come Syria. Yes, there seems to be a disconnect here.
It brings to mind one of this site’s most popular pieces, Scott Locklin’s “Never Trust Anyone Who Hasn’t Been Punched in the Face.” But why bring up the nuances of a fight that didn’t happen over a decade ago? Because with the possibility of Chuck Hagel becoming Obama’s new Secretary of Defense, it’s more relevant than ever.
The neocon reaction to the potential pick and all it implies has been most revealing. Robert Wright at The Atlantic already covered Bill Kristol and The Weekly Standard‘s take on it in his masterful “Chuck Hagel and the Neocon Smear Machine,” so Rich Lowry (snubbed only in passing at VDARE) is in my sights. His writings on the matter are featured in two different places: National Review has “Against the Hagel Nomination” and Politico has “Why Mr. Hagel shouldn’t go back to Washington.” The texts are nearly identical, with curious differences. For example, in NR, Lowry writes that “Hagel woke up every morning and thought he saw the next Henry Kissinger.” The Politico version reads, “Chuck Hagel woke up every morning and thought he saw the next Hans Morgenthau.”
Lowry’s claims that Hagel is unqualified are baseless from the get-go. He writes that “A self-styled foreign policy realist, Hagel is out of the mainstream and terminally naive.” And why is this? Well, Hagel broke with the Bush Administration and began speaking ill of the Iraq War and neoconservatism. He even went so far as discuss the possibility of the president being impeached. All of this is documented in John B. Judis’s “Look Back in Anger” for The New Republic. The idea that those positions would somehow make him at odds with the mainstream is laughable. It is currently very mainstream to disdain Bush, the Iraq War, and neoconservatism. Just look at a few polls.
Bizarrely, Lowry admits that “There is much to be said for Hagel’s warnings prior to the Iraq War that the conflict would have unintended consequences. So it did—horrifying ones,” but he notes that “at the end of the day, Hagel voted for the war.” Lowry also writes (only in the Politico version) how “Often, Hagel was in a tiny minority,” so one can assume that had Hagel voted his conscience on Iraq, Lowry would slam his dissidence. It would seem that Hagel can’t win with Lowry.
The centerpiece of the critique may be Lowry’s perception that Hagel has a “disdain for Israel.” By this, Lowry seems to mean that Hagel is not an Israel hawk and questions America’s relationship with Israel. No evidence is given in the article for “disdain,” merely tales of Hagel’s unwillingness to sanction Middle Eastern nations and label this or that group as “terrorists.” He has also expressed a willingness to “negotiate with terrorists.” Carrying on the tradition of William F. Buckley’s old attacks of anti-Semitism against Joe Sobran and Pat Buchanan, Lowry implies that Hagel may not support Israel due to prejudice, citing the fact that “Hagel has caught grief for once referring to pro-Israel groups as the ‘Jewish lobby.’” Lowry writes that “Hagel clearly has the contempt for Israel of a Euro-sophisticate.”
One might assume that Lowry hopes for a Republican attack against Hagel’s nomination as strong if not stronger than the one mounted against Susan Rice. It may happen. But it’s worth remembering that Hagel earned two Purple Hearts in Vietnam and saved his brother’s life when their armored personnel carrier hit a landmine. Perhaps the severe burns he received while serving make him think twice about war and sanctions, or maybe it was seeing blood pour out of his unconscious brother’s ears. Regardless, Rich Lowry appears to hate him for it and would rather have “a partisan appointment for secretary of defense.” Lowry may have the guts to slam Hagel on the Web, but he can’t even muster up the courage to fight Al Franken, let alone serve in the military he wants to see march across the globe. But who knows? Franken is Jewish, and maybe Lowry merely didn’t want to seem anti-Semitic.
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