In an odd column in Wednesday's New York Times, Tom Friedman praises Chuck Hagel. Friedman doesn't actually praise anything Hagel has ever said or done. He never quotes Hagel nor cites any of Hagel's votes. Indeed, Friedman acknowledges Hagel is "out of the mainstream" on national security issues ranging from Iran to Hamas to the Pentagon budget.
But that's the case for Hagel! You see, "it would be nothing but healthy" to have these out-of-the-mainstream views "included in the president’s national security debates." Friedman writes as if he were recommending Hagel for the job of op-ed columnist. But unlike op-ed writers, the secretary of defense has real authority and important responsibilities. No one objects to the president inviting Chuck Hagel to the White House to participate in foreign policy debates. Indeed, Hagel now serves on a presidential advisory board that is a venue for such debates. The question is whether someone as out of the mainstream as Hagel on fundamental national security issues should be defense secretary. Friedman never explains why that's a good idea. But writing as a Hagel supporter, Friedman does confirm that Hagel is out of the national security mainstream.
The other reason Hagel wins Friedman's endorsement is, he writes, that "The only thing standing between Israel and national suicide any more is America and its willingness to tell Israel the truth. But most U.S. senators, policy makers and Jews prefer to stick their heads in the sand, because confronting Israel is so unpleasant and politically dangerous. Hagel at least cares enough about Israel to be an exception." So Hagel, "unlike most U.S. senators, policy makers and Jews" will seek confrontation with Israel. Is that what we want in our next defense secretary? Is that what most U.S. senators—dismissed by Friedman as "stick[ing] their heads in the sand"—want? In any case, Friedman confirms that on Israel as well, Hagel's views place him out of the policy-making mainstream.
Tom Friedman came to praise Chuck Hagel. He may have ended up burying him.