And Hagel's views on Israel are, to be generous, hard to reconcile with those of the man who successfully campaigned for president just a couple of months ago as a staunch friend of that country. Even if Hagel's gaffe about the perfidious influence of the domestic "Jewish lobby" was accidental, his coolness to Israel is hard to dispute. For instance, when Palestinian suicide bombers were tearing the country apart in 2002, Hagel insisted in an op-ed article that this was the time for Israel to "take steps to show its commitment to peace."
For some, the thinking seems to be that if the Hagel nomination is a thumb in the eye of the neocon crowd, it must be worth it. David Greenberg writes in the New Republic that many "liberals are bending over backward to praise Hagel, in effect saying they would prefer an archconservative male mediocrity to a liberal female rising star." Why? Because punishing Hagel's enemies is worth a potentially lousy defense secretary.
This spirit results in some really batty arguments for Hagel's confirmation. For instance, New York Times columnist Roger Cohen writes that the "chief" reason Hagel should be confirmed is that doing so "will provoke a serious debate on what constitutes real friendship toward Israel." Even if you agree with Cohen's barmy views of geopolitical "friendship," Hagel's got real problems if this is the best case for his nomination.
The Defense Department faces imminent cuts, Chinese and Russian nationalism are ascendant, the Middle East is becoming even more destabilized and theocratic, and we're still at war in Afghanistan, but Hagel's chief qualification is that he'll be a great conversation starter? Wow.
The coming nomination fight will undoubtedly focus on the strength of the case against Hagel. But the real indictment of Obama's pick is the weakness of the case for Hagel -- and the pettiness of the pick in the first place.