By Matt Vespa
Chuck Hagel, former Senator of Nebraska, has been tapped to head the Department of Defense.
He's a Republican, who vociferously criticized the Bush administration during the Iraq War – and equated 'The Surge' as the biggest foreign policy blunder since Vietnam. I also think Iraq was more of a distraction, than brilliant strategic thinking – but that's a different matter. We have a nominee for Secretary of Defense, who holds positions that are to the left of Obama, and it's up to the Republicans on the Hill to derail his nomination.
This isn't revenge. Many pundits say that GOP opposition of Hagel is payback, but there are serious questions that need to be asked of the former senator. First, he needs to clarify his 'Jewish problem.' The Wall Street Journal's Bret Stephens penned a great column in December of 2012 highlighting Mr. Hagel's peculiar policy positions towards the Jewish State."The Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here," says the then-Senator. As Stephens noted,"I'm a United States Senator, not an Israeli Senator," Mr. Hagel told retired U.S. diplomat Aaron David Miller in 2006. 'I'm a United States Senator. I support Israel. But my first interest is I take an oath of office to the Constitution of the United States. Not to a president. Not a party. Not to Israel. If I go run for Senate in Israel, I'll do that."
Stephens aptly noted that such statements are indicative of Hagel's feelings towards Jewish-Americans, as exuding 'dual loyalty' when it comes to questions about allegiance. It's prejudicial and wrong. However, towards the end of his column, Stephens hit the main concern on the head.
In 2002, a year in which 457 Israelis were killed in terrorist attacks (a figure proportionately equivalent to more than 20,000 fatalities in the U.S., or seven 9/11s), Mr. Hagel weighed in with the advice that "Israel must take steps to show its commitment to peace." This was two years after Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak at Camp David had offered Yasser Arafat a state.In 2006, Mr. Hagel described Israel's war against Hezbollah as "the systematic destruction of an American friend, the country and people of Lebanon." He later refused to sign a letter calling on the European Union to designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. In 2007, he voted against designating Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps as a terrorist organization, and also urged President Bush to open "direct, unconditional" talks with Iran to create "a historic new dynamic in U.S.-Iran relations." In 2009, Mr. Hagel urged the Obama administration to open direct talks with Hamas.In Stephens' January 7 column, he noted how Hagel's political courage is fraught with opportunism.In 1998, when it was politically opportune for Mr. Hagel to do so, he bashed Clinton nominee James Hormel for being "openly, aggressively gay," a fact he said was disqualifying for becoming ambassador to Luxembourg. Late last year, when it was again politically opportune, Mr. Hagel apologized for his gay bashing. Mr. Hormel accepted the apology, while noting "the timing appears to be self-serving." Yes it did.In 1999, when the military's "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy was broadly popular, Mr. Hagel scoffed at the idea of repealing it: "The U.S. Armed Forces aren't some social experiment." Since then, Mr. Hagel has offered his opinions on many subjects in scores of published articles. In not one of them did he recant or amend his views on gay issues. His public about-face only occurred when his name made Mr. Obama's shortlist for secretary of defense.In 2002, also when it was overwhelmingly popular, Mr. Hagel voted for the resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq. The lack of political courage is especially noteworthy here, because Mr. Hagel was, in fact, prescient in warning his Senate colleagues that "imposing democracy through force in Iraq is a roll of the dice."Yet as the inimitable David Corn notes, "Bottom line: Hagel feared the resolution would lead to a war that would go badly but didn't have the guts to say no to the leader of his party." In 2006, when the war in Iraq had become overwhelmingly unpopular, Mr. Hagel was on the right side of conventional wisdom. "The United States must begin planning for a phased troop withdrawal from Iraq," he wrote in the Washington Post that November. Still swimming with the tide the following year, he called the surge "the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam."
Well, ' the surge' (aka clear, hold, and build) was a success. It brought about the Sunni Awakening, led to a dramatic decrease in sectarian violence, allowed the Iraqi government to breath, and ended with Iraqi security forces taking more responsibility in combat operations. By the way, these operations were executed with success, with little to no American ground support. Ironically, it was 'the surge' that allowed the United States to withdrawal from Iraq.
Within media circles, it's been a frenzy, but even The Washington Post knows Hagel isn't right for the job.
Mr. Hagel’s stated positions on critical issues, ranging from defense spending to Iran, fall well to the left of those pursued by Mr. Obama during his first term — and place him near the fringe of the Senate that would be asked to confirm him.
The current secretary, Leon Panetta, has said the defense “sequester” cuts that Congress mandated to take effect Jan. 1 would have dire consequences for U.S. security. Mr. Hagel took a very different position when asked about Mr. Panetta’s comment during a September 2011 interview with the Financial Times. “The Defense Department, I think in many ways, has been bloated,” he responded. “So I think the Pentagon needs to be pared down.”
Yes, paring down the Pentagon during wartime is a smart move.
Republican National Committee has compiled some further research on the former senator, and it's not much of an improvement.
According To Hagel, The Assad Regime In Syria Isn’t All That BadHagel Promoted Increased Diplomacy With The Syrian Regime And Failed To Support Sanctions Against It As A State-Sponsor Of TerrorismAfter a 1998 Meeting With Syrian Dictator Hafez Al-Assad, Hagel Said “Peace Comes Through Dealing With People.Peace Doesn’t Come At The End Of A Bayonet.” “Mr. Hagel met in Damascus in 1998 with the terror-sponsoring dictator, Hafez Al-Assad, and returned to tell a reporter about the meeting, ‘Peace comes through dealing with people. Peace doesn’t come at the end of a bayonet or the end of a gun.’” (Editorial: “Hagar The Horrible,”The New York Sun, 10/11/04)In 2003, Hagel Failed To Vote On The Syria Accountability Act That Authorized Sanctions On Syria For Its Support For Terrorism And Development Of Weapons Of Mass Destruction.(H.R. 1828, CQ Vote #445: Passed 89-4: R 47-2; D 42-1; I 0-1, 11/11/03, Hagel Did Not Vote)In A 2008 Op-Ed With Sen. John Kerry, Hagel Suggested The U.S. Should Offer “Tangible Benefits” To Syria’s Bashar Al-Assad After The Dictator Complained That His “Positive Steps Have Not Been Rewarded.” “While Syria must crack down on the flow of foreign fighters into Iraq, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad claims positive steps have not been rewarded. We should test whether offering tangible benefits brings better results, starting with providing more humanitarian assistance for the nearly 1.5 million Iraqi refugees Syria has absorbed.” (Sens. John Kerry and Chuck Hagel, Op-Ed, “It’s Time To Talk To Syria,” The Wall Street Journal, 6/5/08)
Hagel And Kerry Said, “Our Policy Of Nonengagement Has Isolated Us More Than The Syrians.” “The recent announcement of peace negotiations between Israel and Syria through Turkey, and the agreement between the Lebanese factions in Qatar - both apparently without meaningful U.S. involvement - should serve as a wake-up call that our policy of nonengagement has isolated us more than the Syrians. These developments also help create new opportunities and increased leverage that we can only exploit through substantive dialogue with Syria.” (Sens. John Kerry and Chuck Hagel, Op-Ed, “It’s Time To Talk To Syria,” The Wall Street Journal, 6/5/08)
According To Hagel, It Wasn’t Worth Sending A Message To Russia’s Leadership To Condemn Anti-Semitism In Russia In 1999, Hagel Was The Only Senator Not To Sign a Letter Condemning Anti-Semitism In Russia. “Jewish leaders are upset that Sen. Chuck Hagel was the only member of the Senate not to sign a letter urging Boris Yeltsin to speak out against growing anti-Semitism in Russia. An advertisement in Sunday’s New York Times displayed a Senate letter signed by 99 senators with only Hagel’s name missing. Hagel said Thursday he has taken even stronger and more effective action by writing President Clinton, asking him to appeal directly to Yeltsin to combat the anti-Semitic acts and rhetoric. But a trio of Jewish leaders in Lincoln said they wish Hagel had also joined his colleagues in signing the Senate letter.” (“Hagel Criticized Over Senate Letter To Yeltsin,” The Associated Press, 6/25/99)
Chuck Hagel is certainly on the fringe when it comes to America's interests abroad. He served his country in uniform, and that's honorable, but these positions on Israel, Hezbollah, Iran, and Syria are incredibly troubling. Furthermore, there will be times when he will have to give his opinion on matters that might be at odds with the president. From his record, he seems to flow with the political winds of what's popular at the time. In all, he's more of a flip-flopper than Gov. Mitt Romney.
The other side of this equation is what was President Obama thinking when he nominated Mr. Hagel? Why is he spending so much of his political capital (what's left of it) on a nomination battle? If the president is doing this to purposefully antagonize Republicans, he's immature. If he's doing this to show that he's removing the last remnants of the Bush years, his ideological entrenchment is more stubborn originally thought.
Either way, Chuck Hagel is the wrong man to lead the Defense Department, and gives realism a bad name. Republicans should block him.