In 1963, my senior thesis in college was a paper criticizing the Domino Theory rationale for the Vietnam War that was then getting started. According to the theory, if South Vietnam went communist, all of Southeast Asia and perhaps all the rest of Asia as well was destined automatically to follow. Thus, the fate of free Asia and even of the free world rested on whether or not South Vietnam went communist.
I remember getting a less than stellar grade on the paper which said that the theory was bunk. Forty years later, twice wounded Vietnam vet and U.S. Senator Chuck Hagel told me that based on his experience he'd have given me an A-plus.
Hagel and I became friends and allies after his election to the Senate in 1996. Both of us were old fashioned Republicans of the internationalist stripe. Think Bob Dole or George H.W. Bush. We wanted responsible government but we didn't hate government. More importantly we didn't believe in Imperial Government.
The U.S. response to the Al Qaeda attack on the World Trade Towers became a matter of great concern for both us. I thought President George W. Bush missed a great opportunity for world leadership by not using global satellite TV to do a world hook-up and use the time zones to rotate around the globe thanking the countries like France, Britain, Russia, Japan, and others for their support and condolences and publicly inviting their leaders to the ranch for a weekend of consultation and strategy making with regard to a comprehensive program to wipe out Al Qaeda and its brand of terrorism.
Hagel was intensely uncomfortable with the "for us or against us" attitude that came to characterize American policy in the wake of nine-eleven. He bristled at the term "axis of evil", thinking that it foreclosed the possibility of diplomacy. While he supported a tough policy toward Saddam Hussein's Iraq, he often cautioned that, "the military option alone won't work." He argued then and continues to argue that U.S. efforts to foster democracy through unilateral intervention are doomed. As head of the Atlantic Council, he has called for the United States to lead creation of a new world order by reforming (rather than attempting to strangle) international organizations to accommodate the rise of the likes of China, India, Brazil, and others.
In 2002, I think I was perhaps the last western analyst to interview Yassir Arafat. At the time he was barricaded in his Mukata headquarters which was surrounded by Israeli tanks that had been stationed there by order of then Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. This, of course, was all in the wake of the breakdown of the Camp David talks at the end of the Clinton administration and the outbreak of the second intifada. Despite the failure , which Israel and Clinton blamed on Arafat, he maintained that he remained committed to the two state solution.
When I later discussed this interview with Hagel, I mentioned that I was unsure to what extent Arafat was, in fact , committed to the two-state solution. Hagel noted that whatever Arafat's emotional leaning might be, in the end, there really could be nothing other than a two-state solution. Since then, he has continually pushed that view. He has also advocated direct talks between the United States and Iran and has urged that the United States offer inducements to Hamas to change its behavior and to reconcile with the Palestinian Authority on the West Bank rather than attempting to oust it from its position in Gaza.
These views are now generating a drum beat of anti-Hagel commentary from Israel and from parts of the U.S. Jewish, Christian Zionist, and neocon communities. For example, the Weekly Standard quotes one Republican aide as saying: "This (Hagel's views) is the worst kind of anti-Semitism there is."
Well, this anti-Semitism charge is getting old and over-used. Hagel was a U.S. senator, not a member of the Israeli parliament. His job has been to think about what's good for America. Interestingly, there are many who feel that in doing so he's also been a good friend of Israel in the sense that friends don't let friends drive drunk.
One can, of course, disagree with his views and even oppose his nomination on policy grounds, but it would be an injustice not only to Chuck Hagel, but also to the United States of America if his nomination were blocked because of unfounded charges of anti-Semitism. Hagel is an honorable person who has bled for his country and served it above and beyond the call of duty. We'd be lucky to have him as secretary of defense.
Junko Kimura/Getty Images
Clyde Prestowitz is the president of the Economic Strategy Institute and writes on the global economy for FP.