David Frum

01.31.13

Ted Cruz's War on Context

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Ted Cruz raised eyebrows today by accusing Chuck Hagel of saying something quite terrible about Israel's conduct in their 2006 war against Hezbollah. Cruz: "In a speech on the floor of the Senate you referred to Israel's military campaign against the terrorist group Hezbollah as a, quote, 'sickening slaughter."

A terrible thing for Hagel to say, right? Except it's missing loads of context. Weigel dug up the full speech. Here's the relevant quote:

How do we realistically believe that a continuation of the systematic destruction of an American friend, the country and people of Lebanon, is going to enhance America's image and give us the trust and credibility to lead a lasting and sustained peace effort in the Middle East?

The sickening slaughter on both sides must end, and it must end now. President Bush must call for an immediate cease-fire. This madness must stop. The Middle East today is more combustible and complex than it has ever been. Uncertain popular support for regime legitimacy continues to weaken governments in the Middle East. Economic stagnation, persistent unemployment, deepening despair, and wider unrest enhance the ability of terrorists to recruit and succeed.

Yes, what a terrible thing to say. At this point, Hagel seems to be to the left of his President on the Israel/Palestine issue, but mourning the price of constant war is not a smear on Israel. It's a reaction to violence and human suffering. Hagel was not accusing Israel of being at fault for the "sickening slaughter." Indeed, read these paragraphs from later in Hagel's speech (emphasis mine):

The world has rightly condemned the despicable actions of Hezbollah and Hamas terrorists who attacked Israel and kidnapped Israeli soldiers. Israel has the undeniable right to defend itself against aggression. This is the right of all nations.

Hezbollah is a threat to Israel, to Lebanon, and to all who strive for lasting peace in the Middle East. However, military action alone will not destroy Hezbollah or Hamas. Extended military action is tearing Lebanon apart, killing innocent civilians, devastating its economy and infrastructure, and creating a humanitarian disaster, further weakening Lebanon's fragile democratic government, strengthening popular Muslim and Arab support for Hezbollah, and deepening hatred of Israel's position across the Middle East. The pursuit of tactical military victories at the expense of the core strategic objective of Arab-Israeli peace is a hollow victory. The war against Hezbollah and Hamas will not be won on the battlefield.

For Hagel to hope for peace was no attack on Israel. It wasn't even a moral judgement of fault. It was simply a reaction to the ravages of war and an expression of fear that this conflict might never end. What's so awful in stating that concern?