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The Hagel Choice

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President Obama nominates former senator Chuck Hagel to serve as his third Pentagon chief.

I knew John Tower. I covered Senator John Tower, Republican from Texas, for years, first as a Washington correspondent for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, then as President George H.W. Bush’s failed nominee as defense secretary.

Chuck Hagel is no John Tower.

That’s not intended as criticism of either man. But there are a couple of parallels worth noting.

Like Hagel, Tower was proud of his enlisted military service. His came in the Navy during World War II, as seaman first class aboard an amphibious gunboat in the Pacific. Both were graduates of inland colleges after their military service – Tower from Southwestern University, in Georgetown, Texas, and Hagel from the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Their common background, and the grit it suggests, may account for why they rubbed some of their Senate colleagues the wrong way.

(MORE: President Obama Taps Former GOP Senator Chuck Hagel to Run Pentagon)

John G. Tower

Terry Ashe / Time Life Pictures / Getty Images

Tower at the press club, Mar. 1, 1989

A short man with tall ambitions, Tower left the Senate in 1985 — where he had served as chairman of the armed services committee — with a reputation as a drinker and a womanizer. In a remarkable appearance at the National Press Club on Mar. 1, 1989, Tower declared that he was taking an oath “before the American people” to no longer imbibe if he became defense secretary. “I have broken wedding vows,” he conceded. It was painful to witness.

But it was too little, too late. Nine days later, the Senate voted 53-47 against confirming the 24-year Senate veteran. It was the first time in history it had rejected a Cabinet nominee of a newly-elected president. Tower remained bitter until he died in a Georgia plane crash 25 months later.

Hagel, who served as a Republican senator from Nebraska from 1996 to 2008, apparently has none of Tower’s personal baggage. “I am grateful for this opportunity to serve our country again and especially its men and women in uniform and their families,” Hagel said at Monday’s White House announcement of his nomination. “I’m also grateful for an opportunity to help continue to strengthen our country and strengthen our country’s alliances and advance global freedom, decency and humanity as we help build a better world for all mankind.”

The opposition to him comes from folks who don’t like his views on the proper use of U.S. military force, the degree to which he supports Israel, and a couple of politically tone-deaf comments (“the Jewish lobby” in reference to pro-Israeli interests, and “openly, aggressively gay,” referring to a Clinton ambassadorial nominee). “On Iran, on direct face-to-face negotiations with terrorist organizations like Hamas, and questioning our commitment to Israel, our principal ally in the Middle East,” Senator John Cornyn, R-Texas, told NBC, “Chuck Hagel is clearly outside of the mainstream and even contradicts this Administration’s own stated policies in many respects.”

(MORE: The Real Challenges for the New Secretary of Defense)

For lack of a better phrase – there may not be one, in fact – pro-Israeli neo-conservatives are alarmed that, as defense secretary, Hagel wouldn’t be hawkish enough to scare Iran into giving up what Tehran (but no one else) maintains is its peaceful nuclear-development program.

It’s a peculiar strike against him, given that both the outgoing defense chief, Leon Panetta, and his predecessor, Robert Gates, have been cool to trying to use military force to compel Iran to back down (although they have held it in reserve). So is much of the U.S. military, including Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs. The consensus is that attacking Iran would likely only delay, not halt, Tehran’s ambitions.

These are matters of policy, not personal probity. Policy matters are decided by President Obama, not his defense chief. “This is not about Chuck Hagel, because he is not going to determine policy in the Middle East or with Iran,” former defense secretary William Cohen tells Battleland. “That’s the call of the President.” (Fred Kaplan at Slate argues that the bile over the Hagel nomination comes from partisans upset over Obama’s recent re-election as much as anything else).

Hagel scores a hat trick when it comes to serving as the Pentagon chief: he was wounded as an enlisted man while in Vietnam. That trio of tribulations undoubtedly gives him a sensitivity to the deployment of, and wounds suffered by, U.S. troops, both of which are overwhelmingly borne by the enlisted ranks. “To this day, Chuck bears the scars and the shrapnel from battles he fought in our name,” President Obama said as he formally announced Hagel’s selection. “As I saw during our visits together to Afghanistan and Iraq, in Chuck Hagel, our troops see a decorated combat veteran of character and strength. They see one of their own.”

It is instructive to line up Hagel’s boosters against his bashers, and ponder each sides national-security bona fides. It’s not dispositive, of course, but it is interesting.

The supportive camp includes former defense secretaries Gates and Cohen; current defense secretary Panetta; Colin Powell, President George W. Bush’s secretary of state and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President George H.W. Bush; Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter’s national security adviser; Frank Carlucci, President Reagan’s defense secretary; William “Fox” Fallon, former chief of U.S. Central Command; and Brent Scowcroft, retired Air Force lieutenant general and national security adviser to presidents Ford and George H.W. Bush.

Critics include several GOP senators – Dan Coats of Indiana, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, Cornyn and Ted Cruz of Texas, and Roger Wicker of Mississippi — House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, and outside opponents like Josh Block, who heads the Israel Project, a pro-Israel group, and William Kristol, editor of conservative Weekly Standard magazine.

The consensus, although it is by no means firm, is that Hagel will be confirmed. His breadth of support suggests that, absent some ill-chosen phrases that he will spend much time in the coming days lamenting, he is well within the national-security mainstream.

But it’s not, as was once stated in connection with another close national-security debate, a “slam dunk.” Opponents already have launched an anti-Hagel website (http://www.chuckhagel.com/) urging Americans to “Tell your Senators Chuck Hagel is too extreme to be Secretary of Defense.”

Political attacks have matured over the past quarter-century. They can be designed to distort a thinking record just as easily as a drinking record. Perhaps Tower himself said it best at the press club as his nomination crumbled before his eyes. “Is character assassination a legitimate and acceptable means of the exercise of political power?” he wondered. “If that question is answered in the affirmative, we have ushered in a new and rather ugly phase in American politics.”

41 comments
JeanPierreKatz
JeanPierreKatz

Hagel believes that the policy of President Obama "all options are on the table" should be eliminated and no military option should be considered towards Iran even if it achieves it's nuclear bombs and even if it builds ICBM's pointed at America.


A nuclear Iran has sworn to eliminate Israel and every mosque in Iran has a poster "Death To Israel."


After Iran drops an atomic bomb over Tel Aviv, the issue of whether Hagel is anti-Israel or pro-Israel becomes mute.


Iran has a high tolerance for the deaths of huge numbers of people. The war between Iran and Iraq ostensibly over a territorial dispute concerning 0.1% of Iran's land mass had a million casualties.

Iran has spread it's terror all over the globe and has murdered more than a thousand Americans.

It's ideology is identical to Al Quaeda, amd certainly has America, the Great Satan in it's cross hairs.


A  Hagel confirmation kills any chance of Iran agreeing to stop it's nuclear weapons program through negotiations. why would they take the tremendous political risk of telling their people that years of sanctions privations was for nothing when they know their is no risk of an American military action?


I believe President Obama's primary motivation in nominating Hagel is that he thinks he would help to deeply cut the Pentagon budget, and not to poke a finger in the eye of the pro-Israel constituency.


But it is a very serious miscalculation of unintended consequences.


The Senate should not confirm Hagel.  Senators Blumenthal, Gildebrand, Schumer. Lautenberg, Menendez, Boxer, Cardin and many more that  take seriously the Iranian threat and have made promises  to their constituents  on this issue should vote no just for this reason.


eazj@yahoo.com
eazj@yahoo.com

Senate - confirm Hagel quickly!! He will protect American interests and lives!  We don't need a war with Iran, we need to build America and bring our troops home!!

DrinkerOfTheRye
DrinkerOfTheRye

The Senate owes the President the same deference to his choice of Hagel as Sec Def as they gave John Tower.

jmac
jmac

David Brooks opines in today's paper that Hagel was picked to cut the military budget and was chosen for that reason only.     He writes, "These spending cuts will transform America's stature in the world,  making us look a lot more like Europe today. . . .   How, in short, will Hagel supervise the beginning of America's military decline."

Anyone who thinks that Brooks isn't in the same boat with Krauthammer and Kristol can think again.    

antonmarq
antonmarq

The only reason the GOP don;t want this guy is because he won't squeal to them. They are only interested in investigations that the GOP are running in foreign countries that they can be linked to.  

DonQuixotic
DonQuixotic

Obama touched Hagel so now he has cooties and the GOP hate him.  That's pretty much the gist of it.

avilaman215
avilaman215

If Hagel is not confirmed, it will indicate how much Israel , AIPAC, & their sycophants in Congress control who represents us in high office, as well as runs our foreign policy. It is deplorable the influence that Israel has on this country, & no other country in the world would stand for  Israel's meddling  in their politics.

tommyudo
tommyudo

I said last week that Obama would nominate Hagel and ram him down the throats of the chicken hawk GOP and the Israeli Firsters in the right wing think tanks and their embedded hacks in the press. Some Dem senators from the Northeast, like Schumer,  will do the usual Kabuki dance with their "wait and see" attitude, but he will be confirmed by the Senate, and the neocons continue to gnash their teeth. What they want are willing tools to start wars, so they can sit back from the comfort of their easy chairs to watch. Neocons in general are the Traitor Lobby.

jmac
jmac

"He was wounded as an enlisted man in Vietnam."  Are the Swift Boaters going to step in?  Hagel's a good friend of John Kerry.  We know they'll eat their own.  

fitty_three
fitty_three

I wonder how much bias against enlisted servicemen and women there is in this. Between that and the Isreali lobby and there's nothing that the opposition truly has against Hagel.

newsy97
newsy97

It is true that the right wing Jewish sector is naturally in lock step with the broader American right wing sector, but as an outsider to both of those groups, I understand that Israel is but a piece of their overall world view and but a particle of their vision of the use of American power. I think a more accurate explanation for these groups motives would be their embrace of the ideals of "Jacksonian Democracy".

70% of the Jewish vote went Democratic despite the efforts of Israel's PM Netanyahu to turn this around. In other words, American Jews are no more monolithic than other Americans when it comes to supporting the United States.

 So in a broader sense, I feel that this issue is being used by many Israel bashers to isolate and attack the close and strategic relationship our Nation has always had with the State of Israel, and this is a troubling thing. 

jaymocking
jaymocking

How does the GOP turn on a Republican and decorated Vietnam vet?  Easy -- He's nominated by Barack Obama!

falcon269
falcon269

When anyone sees the full-court press by those representing the interests of a foreign nation instead of the U.S., are they surprised by the rising antisemitism in the country? No one advocates that the U.S. follow French interests that are not also U.S. interests.

roknsteve
roknsteve

Today being Elvis's birthday this reminds me of his huckster manager Col. Parker who was a carny before that.  The GoP will turn this into a carnival side-show with dancing chickens and lots of hay and bad prizes.   

forgottenlord
forgottenlord

Hoo boy did we usher in a new and ugly phase of politics

KountyKobbler
KountyKobbler

The three top folk bucking this areLinsey graham John McCain and Mitch McConnell None of which are anything but Power Brokers  and the more they push for Power the Broker this nation gets  from the Money push for More, Larger and more destructive War toys  of mass destruction  forgetting we have enough arsonal  to kill the entire world  10 times over.. The tools needed are to control  are the ones that take care of the fires before they are huge and would need the suicide  destruction that they push.  The President  should prevail  in his cabinet choices.  The top three Need to learn that  The power of three Congressmen  should not  control the Chief Executive of the nation.

Thinker.2
Thinker.2

Don't let them fool you. It's not about whether he is a capable man. Everyone knows that he is. The problem is that he is not "approved" for the position by the Israeli Lobby. Every other accusation against Hagel is a distraction. Its time Israel stopped meddling in our internal affairs.

JaneAnn
JaneAnn

Look at the names and records of service of those who served,,,,,,then look at the names and records of service of those in opposition.   It's simply as telling as that.    As a person of the Vietnam era,  the hypocrisy of the Kristol, Coburn, Cantor will never cease to sicken me.

JaneAnn
JaneAnn

I guess the only thing that makes Con  Republicans more nervous than a honorable Vietnam Enlisted Veteran with two Purple Hearts, a brother who served and shrapnel in his chest is a former Republican Senator they once loved who's an Enlisted Vietnam Veteran, etc.    Don't you just love how all the Con's  - None of whom ever served a day in their lies have taken the let's get Hagel assignment so well???

bobell
bobell

True. And if they can establish that Hagel is a womanizing alcoholic they ought to reject him.

But this argument is over policy, not competence or personal hygeine.  No one says Hagel is morally or professionally unfit for the job. (Okay, there's that anti-Semitism canard -- but it's a canard.)  If the president has reasonable policies that he wants an appointee to implement, he's entitled to that appointee. It's been that way for two centuries, and it ought to be that way now.

outsider
outsider

@sacredh 


Graham, who serves on the Armed Services Committee, stressed that a delay is "not directed" at Brennan but that such a step may be "necessary action" to get more details from the administration about its handling of the aftermath.




Sounds more and more like the GOP just doesn't want the gov't to work if they aren't in power.

This is beyond lame now.



I hope Graham does get challenged in the next elections, and loses big time.


 


jmac
jmac

@antonmarq   Mario Loyola, writing in the National Review's The Corner states exactly why the GOP doesn't like him. Admitting the sanctions are working, he then adds,   . . . "there has been no effort to scare Iran."  

Loyola is the former counsel for foreign and defense policy for the Senate Republican policy committee.  The GOP has learned nothing since the disaster that was the Bush bullying.  (The worst being Bush and his wife both blame France for not taking in Hussein and avoiding the war that Bush had to carry through after his bellicose rantings.)  

outsider
outsider

@tommyudo 


What they want are people who will just do what they want, regardless of who won the election. 


It's spoiled brat syndrome. 

DrinkerOfTheRye
DrinkerOfTheRye

As Hagel's good friend, let's hope he doesn't ask Chuck, how he will ask a soldier to be the last soldier to die in Afghanistan next year.

DrinkerOfTheRye
DrinkerOfTheRye

Yes, the 53 to 47 largely partisan vote represented the first time the Senate had rejected a new president’s Cabinet nominee. He was repudiated by his Democratic colleagues because of their well known sensitivity to heavy drinking and marital infidelity.

DrinkerOfTheRye
DrinkerOfTheRye

It's not, Obama pivoted away from the mid-East towards the Pacific in our new National Strategy.

HudsonValleyTim
HudsonValleyTim

@newsy97 @53_3 

I fully agree that Bibi wants peace, but his idea of peace is not a just-peace for the Palestinians.  He wants the peace of knowing that his illegal settlements can multiply like bunnies without those pesky Palestinians bugging him.  Assad had "peace" as well, until the peaceful down-trodden decided that they didn't like his vision of how things ought to be.

fitty_three
fitty_three

@newsy97  

So again, why is it necessary to have a close relationship with Israel?

fitty_three
fitty_three

@newsy97

I think the same can be said of Bibi.  Avigdor would be right up there with those who would be elected "most likely to commit a crime against humanity".

That's not bashing, I've watched this situation and watched for 40 years.

fitty_three
fitty_three

@newsy97

There was.  He just keeps weakening Abbas's hand.  And I'm dead set against the "settlements".  We have a second Amendment solution for those types here.  That's how low esteem I hold them.  Land thieves, nothing more.

newsy97
newsy97

@53_3 The complexity is that the Arabs do not want peace. You can bash Bibi all you want, but if an enemy is dead set on wiping you out, it becomes a complexity.

newsy97
newsy97

@53_3 @newsy97 I do not agree that he does not want peace, but if we can twist his arm and IF there is a partner for peace, I'm all in.

fitty_three
fitty_three

I don't buy the "complexity theory" as an obstacle to understanding the situation in Israel.

fitty_three
fitty_three

@newsy97

Probably not, but I think that would be the highest level of leverage we have.  Bibi doesn't want peace.  We need to change that.

newsy97
newsy97

@53_3 @newsy97 I would probably agree, but it is not as simple as you make it seem.

fitty_three
fitty_three

@newsy97

Go with Hagel.  I'm not fond of wars, and I think there are other solutions.

I think we should force Israel to make peace with Palestine, and in exchange, we take care of Iran.


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