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The Hagel Pick

The Washington press corps has been whipping itself into a frenzy on the president’s nomination of Chuck Hagel for secretary of defense. With Hagel joining John Kerry, it’s an old white men, establishment team that President Obama is taking into his second term. But many are looking at the Hagel pick as a sign that the president is choosing a policy of containment of Iran and caution generally overseas.

We wouldn’t read so much into these picks. His first choice for Secretary of State was Susan Rice, an active humanitarian interventionist if ever there were one—and not all that convincing as a member of the white male establishment for that matter.

Generally speaking, at Via Meadia we think presidents should be allowed to work with the team they want, and these days important policy isn’t settled in the Pentagon—or in Foggy Bottom for that matter. On the big issues, like peace and war, the White House gives the marching orders and the secretaries execute. Ask Colin Powell.

But the controversy over Hagel is the kind of story the media likes. There’s a huge competition to try to scoop the competition, and everyone loves to pontificate portentously on the consequences of A or B getting the job. Twitter and the blogosphere are analyzing every twist and turn of Hagel’s career, looking for signs of anti-Semitism or other disqualifying blemishes.

Fair enough. That’s how the system works, and the American people have a right to check into the histories of those who aspire to lead them. But for people who want to follow news seriously, episodes like this are a great opportunity to save time by skipping the froth and the frenzy. This is the kind of coverage that serious observers (who aren’t hunting for jobs in DC) can and should tune out as much as possible. The press is like a pack of greyhounds, and stories like this are exactly the kind of mechanical rabbit that sets everyone off on a noisy but essentially meaningless chase.

When the newspapers fill up with this kind of stuff, it’s a great time to pick up a good book.  Here at the stately manor, we’ve been having another look at one of those important books that has never received enough intention: Jewcentricity: Why the Jews are Praised, Blamed, and Used to Explain Just About Everything by TAI editor and blogger Adam Garfinkle. As Garfinkle points out, there is a widespread tendency among anti-Semites but also among some Jews to overestimate the importance of Jews in all kinds of political and social questions. Those who think, as Senator Hagel once very unfortunately stated, that a “Jewish lobby” is responsible for American policy on Israel are victims of Jewcentricity; they don’t just underestimate the degree of diversity within the American Jewish community about policy toward Israel, they overestimate the power that Jews have to shape the debate.

As another TAI blogger, Peter Berger described the book, “One way of looking at this brilliant book is to see it as an extended commentary on an old joke that defines a philo-Semite as an anti-Semite who likes Jews. Garfinkle shows, with many examples, what both characters have in common—a wildly exaggerated notion of the importance of Jews in the world. Garfinkle’s argument is scholarly, lucid, witty, and very persuasive. It deserves a wide readership.”

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