My Take: 'What would George Washington do' about Chuck Hagel?
January 17th, 2013
02:32 PM ET

My Take: 'What would George Washington do' about Chuck Hagel?

Editor's note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "The American Bible: How Our Words Unite, Divide, and Define a Nation," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.

By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN

(CNN) - As I have read recent neoconservative diatribes against President Obama’s nominee for secretary of defense,  former Sen. Chuck Hagel - including charges that he is an anti-Semite and a full-page advertisement attacking him in The New York Times on Thursday - I have asked myself, “What would George Washington do?"

In his Farewell Address, published on September 19, 1796, Washington offered his hard-won wisdom on such matters as church and state, partisan politics, and foreign policy.

On foreign policy, Washington declared our independence from friends and foes alike, warning against the “evils” produced by “permanent, inveterate antipathies against particular nations, and passionate attachments for others.” To love or hate another nation too deeply, he observed, “is in some degree to become a slave ... to its animosity or to its affection.”

Even before Obama officially nominated Hagel to be secretary of defense, the Vietnam War veteran was being attacked not just for displaying insufficient affection toward Israel but for allegedly being an anti-Semite. On December 13, an unnamed Senate aide told The Weekly Standard that Hagel exhibited “the worst kind of anti-Semitism there is” when he said in 2006 that the "Jewish lobby" in Washington tends to "intimidate" lawmakers. On January 7, Elliott Abrams of the Council on Foreign Relations told NPR that Hagel “appears to be ... frankly an anti-Semite," based on what Abrams described as an insufficiently friendly attitude toward the Jewish community in Nebraska.

Hagel has since apologized to lawmakers for the "Jewish lobby" remark, winning the support of some key Jewish lawmakers.

Follow the CNN Belief Blog on Twitter

I understand why some lawmakers and lobbyists might disagree with comments Hagel once made about the wisdom of going to war with Iraq or about the prospect of going to war with Iran. I understand as well why some might take issue with statements he has made about Hezbollah or Hamas or pre-emptive war. That is the stuff of politics, and I say have at it.

But as we as a nation ponder whether Hagel is an appropriate choice for secretary of defense, we need to remember that he is being asked to come to work for the United States.

It is fine for individual Americans to love other countries — for Indian-Americans to love India, for Greek-Americans to love Greece, for Brazilian-Americans to love Brazil. And I am sure that Ed Koch and Alan Dershowitz and other signers of Thursday’s New York Times ad attacking Chuck Hagel love Israel.

That is their right.

But it is not right for the United States as a nation to love any other country. Such love can make us feel we ought to endorse everything that country’s leaders do, or to attack as un-American anyone who says something even mildly critical of its leadership’s policies.

CNN’s Belief Blog: The faith angles behind the biggest stories

I don’t know much about Chuck Hagel, and I don’t particularly care whether he becomes our next secretary of defense. But as we ponder his nomination, we should remember the words of our first president, one of our greatest, particularly his observation that "the nation which indulges towards another a habitual hatred or a habitual fondness is in some degree a slave. It is a slave to its animosity or to its affection, either of which is sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and its interest."

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero.

- CNN Belief Blog contributor

Filed under: Foreign policy • Israel • Israel • Leaders • Middle East • Military • Obama • Politics • United States

soundoff (159 Responses)
  1. Pravda

    Another lemming for O and his fellow tyrants. Whenever will he be impeached?

    January 19, 2013 at 11:58 pm |
  2. Douglas

    Chuck Hagel is a God-fearing patriot who bled in Vietnam, stood up to the Bush liars about Iraq and who refuses to
    be Israel's b-i-t-c-h.
    That's what we need in a Defense Secretary.

    January 19, 2013 at 5:51 am |
    • Pravda

      LOL, happy that he is Iran's b-i-t-c-h?

      January 20, 2013 at 12:00 am |
  3. donner

    Chuck Hagel combat veteran John Kerry combat veteran
    George w Bush AWOL from National Guard
    Richard Cheney 5 college deferments

    Stinking right wing gutter filth Your time is ending

    January 19, 2013 at 12:13 am |
    • Pravda

      You are black too I take it?

      January 20, 2013 at 12:01 am |
  4. it is Called

    It is Called no god(s) required for principles

    It is Called Principles not theory

    Principles of Evolution, Ecology and Behavior (EEB 122)

    Geology and climate have shaped the development of life tremendously. This has occurred in the form of processes such as the oxygenation of the atmosphere, mass extinctions, tectonic drift, and disasters such as floods and volcanic eruptions. Life, particularly bacteria, has also been able to impact the geological makeup of the planet through metabolic processes.

    00:00 – Chapter 1. Introduction
    02:16 – Chapter 2. The Oxygenation of the Atmosphere
    09:08 – Chapter 3. Evidence of Climate Change
    17:36 – Chapter 4. Geological Impact on Life
    29:37 – Chapter 5. Mass Extinctions
    42:19 – Chapter 6. Earthquakes, Eruptions, and Floods
    46:38 – Chapter 7. Conclusion

    Complete course materials are available at the Open Yale Courses website: http://open.yale.edu/courses
    No repy needed take it up with YALE

    January 18, 2013 at 6:23 pm |
    • Pravda

      No one really cares...

      January 19, 2013 at 11:58 pm |
  5. truth be told

    poor ricochet can't even think for itself.

    January 18, 2013 at 1:24 pm |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Poor poop isn't chocolate, foolish mistake. Sit on the tuffet and ponder the nature of bread for marmalade is obnoxious. Lamps are ironic in a refrigerated fashion but bees buzz angrily at kettles.

      January 18, 2013 at 1:28 pm |
    • Ricochet

      truth be told
      "poor ricochet can't even think for itself."

      What an ironic comment, coming from you, who has glommed onto the fantasy scenarios and superst'itions of 2000+ year- old Palestinians hook, line and sinker.

      January 18, 2013 at 1:41 pm |
    • Akira

      RL, have you been studying writing at the School of Jill?
      I enjoy her posts, and I'm enjoying yours, too.

      January 18, 2013 at 2:13 pm |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Jill's stuff is far more elaborate and whimsical. She is to be admired.

      January 18, 2013 at 2:20 pm |
    • Akira

      You're getting there, RL.
      Put them all in one post, and you'll be right up there with her elephant painting Mozart.
      I adore Jill.

      January 18, 2013 at 2:24 pm |
    • truth be told

      All so called atheists are liars and given the opportunity mass murderers as well. They fool no one but themselves.

      January 18, 2013 at 3:35 pm |
    • Mohammad A Dar

      @truth be told....

      you are an anti Semite. Your statement makes many atheist Jews Americans "liars and given the opportunity mass murderers".

      January 18, 2013 at 4:32 pm |
    • End Religion

      I'm tempted to create a bizarre post generator. A dash of PHP plus some vocabulary magic, throw in an incredible amount of wasted time and it could happen... The end result would almost make it worth it.

      January 18, 2013 at 5:03 pm |
    • truth be told

      Another gang of loser so called atheists caught lying and proving my comments to be Truth. Thanks bottom feeders.

      January 18, 2013 at 5:38 pm |
  6. truth be told

    What would George Washington do about Chuck Hagel? Nothing, they are generations separated.
    What would George Washington do about atheism? Stand the liars against a post and have them shot.
    No atheist can ever be a patriot and no atheist can ever tell the Truth. An atheist is useless in this world and in the next.

    January 18, 2013 at 1:05 pm |
    • Ricochet

      What one believer lies about another one will swear to.

      January 18, 2013 at 1:10 pm |
    • Mohammad A Dar

      are Godless animals useless too ?

      January 18, 2013 at 1:11 pm |
    • Rational Libertarian

      You should poop on DVDs to surface their mountains. Eyes stay soft every last Wednesday. Montgomerie looks at shingles in giraffes' butter.

      January 18, 2013 at 1:12 pm |
    • Damocles

      Ahhh nothing drips love quite like the pus filled rantings of tbt.

      January 18, 2013 at 1:13 pm |
    • truth be told

      There are no Godless animals, they all know and obey their creator. Only man is stupid enough to deny God.

      January 18, 2013 at 1:14 pm |
    • truth be told

      Thanks to the bottom feeders that respond and prove my point.

      January 18, 2013 at 1:15 pm |
    • Damocles

      I bet tbt eats the hell out of some giraffe butter.

      January 18, 2013 at 1:18 pm |
    • hal 9001

      I'm sorry, "truth be told", but "God" is an element of mythology, therefore your assertions to date continue to be unfounded. Using my Idiomatic Expression Equivalency module (IEE), the expression that best matches the degree to which your repeated unfounded assertions may represent truths is: "CHRONIC TOTAL FAIL". Perhaps the following book can help you cope with the problem of repeating unfounded assertions:

      I'm Told I Have Dementia: What You Can Do... Who You Can Turn to...

      January 18, 2013 at 1:19 pm |
    • Ricochet


      Your hairdresser proved your only point.

      January 18, 2013 at 1:19 pm |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Thanks to the elephant for providing my ironing board. It greatly snargels at generous montages. Rocky montages inhibit fast jellyfish from eating couscous.

      January 18, 2013 at 1:22 pm |
    • truth be told

      All day every day atheist types prove they are liars.

      January 18, 2013 at 1:25 pm |
  7. Science

    At its best here and peer reviewed .No go-d(s) required. Proven right here on this tread!!!


    January 18, 2013 at 10:30 am |
    • Science

      Oops thread

      January 18, 2013 at 12:35 pm |
  8. To Prothero

    Have you ever examined yourself to determine why you are so anti-Israel?

    January 18, 2013 at 10:24 am |
    • Mohammad A Dar

      the last time I checked, America was still a free country and people exercised free speech Mister.

      January 18, 2013 at 12:24 pm |
    • Rational Libertarian

      It could be to do with the murder and exile of the natives by white people whose ancestors left about 500 years ago.

      January 18, 2013 at 12:40 pm |
    • Theoreticus Babblalott

      Would this be one of those pro-Israel internet shills that someoe was posting about a week ago?

      January 18, 2013 at 1:25 pm |
  9. Sane Person

    Anyone who is not 100% pro-Israel is an antisemite

    January 18, 2013 at 8:17 am |
    • Mohammad A Dar

      that's makes 50% of democrats, Republicans, and the president Obama antisemite.

      January 18, 2013 at 8:21 am |
    • Joe from CT, not Lieberman

      That makes most of the Knessit anti-Semitic, considering that they love the power they get from their parties being in the government more than they care about the welfare of Israel and the people of that country and the Occupied Territories (except for the settlers).

      January 18, 2013 at 8:45 am |
    • niknak

      Phuck Isreal.

      January 18, 2013 at 8:52 am |
    • sam stone

      there are other semites than jews, (in)sane person

      January 18, 2013 at 9:23 am |
  10. Tom, Tom, the Other One

    Cabinet members could be chosen from among people who have been mute since birth. Perhaps they should be eunuchs as well (no reason for that except that it has worked in the past and would require a high level of commitment).

    January 18, 2013 at 8:08 am |
    • Akira

      Very high level of commitment.
      I don't think you'll get many takers.

      January 18, 2013 at 11:51 am |
  11. laststonecarver

    The foundation of Christianity is Judaism. As in Jesus, the Good Hebrew. Christ wasn't really his last name, it is just a qualifier for the the biblical prophecy. I guess it is just easier to say Christianity than Jesusanity (hmmm... Jesu Sanity)
    So for those who desire this nation to be a Christian nation, there is a need to cater to the base, of their political design.
    What GW would do is applicable then, because he is a saint to that same Christian nation.
    Or, there is separation of church and state, and this nation is a nation of varient minds, that are not captive to only a single deliberation, some of whom do not have to support Judaism, to support their belief system.
    Nothing that I have read supports the concept that GW supported the state of Israel.

    January 18, 2013 at 7:11 am |
    • laststonecarver

      Ummm... again
      Isn't Judaism the base of Islam also.
      Time travel a little farther back, and the Hyksos peoples invaded Egypt, and conquered it.
      At that time of their rule (the Shephard Kings), Moses who was of their same conquering peoples, but undoubtedly not ent itled, decided that there must be a more preferable place to live, and so after employing some God magic on the Shephard King of Egypt, packed his belongings and friends, and moved. They roamed to the relatively sparcely populated area to the east of the Mediterranean Sea. It is said they were slaves, but I guess they must have had enough gold to build a large calf idol, just for fun.
      Then after a while, one of their folks Abraham got too wife greedy, and one of his wifes got smack with another one.
      End story, the birth of Islam.

      January 18, 2013 at 7:51 am |
  12. AtheistSteve

    The term anti-Semite gets thrown about far too freely. Anti-semite literally means Jew hater. You don't necessarily hate Jews if you take issue with Israeli politics or if you think their religious beliefs are just as goofy as all the others. Opinion isn't hate.

    January 18, 2013 at 6:59 am |
    • sam stone

      Jews are not the only semites. Anti-semite means semite hater, not necessarily jew hater

      January 18, 2013 at 7:46 am |
    • niknak

      Opinion is hate if that opinion is against something that the Jewish lobby is for.

      January 18, 2013 at 9:01 am |
    • captain america

      And canadian opinion don't mean squat to decent Americans. There's your sign

      January 18, 2013 at 1:10 pm |
    • Ricochet

      captain america
      "And canadian opinion don't mean squat to decent Americans."

      Neither does the opinion of an imposter of a comic book character...

      January 18, 2013 at 1:13 pm |
    • Akira

      CA, you are in no way a decent American. There's your, and that's not even original; you stole that from Bill Engvall.

      January 18, 2013 at 2:26 pm |
  13. ???????


    Reviewing the comments noticed someting interesting. Science PROVED it does not work the way the bible said it does.

    All the facts are here on this tread. Peer reviewed !!!


    January 18, 2013 at 6:40 am |
    • Science

      500-Million-year-old animal looked like a tulip
      Ancient sea creature had a bizarre shape, and even stranger physiology

      January 18, 2013 at 7:37 am |
  14. Douglas

    Remember the USS Liberty and it will all make sense.

    January 18, 2013 at 12:17 am |
    • Joe from CT, not Lieberman

      Shhhh. You aren't supposed to remind people that the Israeli Air Force and Navy attacked a US Navy Research Vessel killing 34 crew members, wounding 171 and severely damaging the ship. This was a completely unarmed (except for rifles and pistols in the small arms locker) research ship flying the US Flag, operating in International Waters. Israel "claimed" they mistook her for an Egyptian Destroyer. The lines of a ship like this are totally different from any military vessel configuration, so should be impossible to mistake for any type of warship.

      January 18, 2013 at 8:52 am |
  15. Reality

    As noted previously:

    'What would George Washington do' about Chuck Hagel?"

    And what would GW do about the "wishy-washy" Stevie Prothero who still cannot make up his mind about what god or religion to believe in.

    January 17, 2013 at 10:37 pm |

    Word Jew is based on Hebrew word Yehood, YE, self, Hood, centered or habitat, conjoined with hindu, pagan, secular belief of universe be the creator of itself and universe be the lord and god of the humanity. such as in Ra Ben hood, the path blessing of the habitat, universe.

    January 17, 2013 at 8:46 pm |
    • Al


      January 17, 2013 at 8:48 pm |
    • Reasonably

      Don't feed the troll.

      January 17, 2013 at 11:07 pm |
  17. Bob

    As soon as gods and fairies enter our political discourse, I am reminded of how ignorant most people are. Hopefully, most religions will die out in my lifetime. I can't stand the thought of my great grandchildren arguing with creationists in 50 years.

    January 17, 2013 at 8:20 pm |
    • Observer

      What your missing out on Bob is a few good conspiracy theories...after that you fear they won't be.

      January 17, 2013 at 8:29 pm |
  18. American slaves of guilt

    Jews make us weak. Let us begin to make them uncomfortable for it.

    January 17, 2013 at 7:36 pm |
    • Rational Libertarian

      They make up for it with wonderful comedy.

      January 17, 2013 at 7:53 pm |
    • Observer

      Yes, lets put their undergarments in the freezer. Or perhaps slip their hands into some warm water when they fall asleep.

      January 17, 2013 at 8:35 pm |
    • Akira

      Observer: lol!

      January 17, 2013 at 8:44 pm |
  19. Mohammad A Dar

    Mr. Prothero, you're a good mind reader, excellent and to the point article.

    January 17, 2013 at 7:23 pm |
  20. sam

    This is crazy – Frasier's dad would never be an anti-Semite.

    January 17, 2013 at 7:13 pm |
    • Rational Libertarian

      I dunno, you know how some of those old cops can be.

      January 17, 2013 at 7:19 pm |
    • sam

      True...he was pretty crusty. There's no telling.

      January 17, 2013 at 7:21 pm |
    • Akira

      Crusty? Oh, my!
      Hey, where's Apple?
      Has anyone seen him around?

      January 17, 2013 at 7:25 pm |
1 2 3
About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.