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Hagel Hearing: The War Party’s Waterloo

We have to be thankful to Sen. Lindsey Graham, one of our more theatrical solons, for dramatizing the way in which the Israel lobby intimidates members of Congress: by asking Chuck Hagel if he could name a single Senator who was so intimidated he merely underscored how thoroughly each and every one of them is cowed. The whole spectacle of this public interrogation, with its tiresomely repetitive demands for pledges of undying loyalty to Israel, brought home the truth of Hagel’s remark.

Of course Hagel couldn’t say that, but the ugly reality resonated in the immense silence that followed this exchange. Interestingly, Hagel didn’t back down: He said "I don’t know." As to what motivates any particular member of Congress on any specific "dumb thing" they do – well, he couldn’t know, could he? But of course, everybody knows about the Israel lobby: and if its power and vindictiveness were ever in danger of being forgotten, then surely the battle over Hagel’s confirmation has reminded us.

To anyone who lives outside the Washington bubble, there was something profoundly weird about the ritualistic invocations of undying loyalty to Israel, a country mentioned 135 times in the course of the hearing: Afghanistan only merited 27, while al Qaeda got 2 and Mali one. One would have thought Hagel had been nominated for Israeli Defense Minister instead of the top civilian in the Pentagon. As he faced the pro-Israel "inquisitors" – as Sen. Angus King put it – the educational value of this political drama was worth far more than all the books and articles one could possibly read.

Speaking of motivation, Graham’s grandstanding was preaching to the choir: the wingnuts in his party don’t think he’s right-wing enough, and this is his way of compensating for what the Tea Party types consider sellouts on immigration and other issues dear to their hearts.

However, it was John McCain’s confrontation with his now ex-friend, the former Senator from Nebraska, that was most telling, insofar as it tells us what this whole brouhaha really is about: the country’s verdict on the Iraq war, and the lingering power and influence of those who lied us into it.

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