“To question your government is not unpatriotic — to not question your government is unpatriotic.” - Chuck Hagel
Based on media reports, President Barack Obama will nominate Chuck Hagel, who spent two terms in the United States Senate as a Republican from Nebraska, to serve as Secretary of Defense.
The nomination isn’t exactly surprising. It has long been thought that Obama would nominate Hagel. However, the road to confirmation in the Senate looks shaky as hawish Republicans seem to be preparing for a battle because they believe that Hagel is “anti-Israel,” a sentiment expressed by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) on Sunday talk shows:
Republicans, in particular, have raised objections to statements by Mr. Hagel that they have described as dismissive of Israel and soft on Iran. Mr. Hagel once described pro-Israel lobbying groups as the “Jewish lobby.” He has insisted that he is a strong supporter of Israel.
Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union” that he personally liked Mr. Hagel, but that he was “out of the mainstream of thinking on most issues regarding foreign policy.”
“This is an in-your-face nomination of the president to all of us who are supportive of Israel,” Mr. Graham said. “I don’t know what his management experience is regarding the Pentagon — little if any — so I think it’s an extremely controversial choice.”
According to ThinkProgress, Graham also said that Hagel has been “very antagonistic toward the state of Israel,” an argument that just isn’t factual. Sorry, but it’s hard to see why Hagel’s nomination is “extremely controversial.” Moreover, it’s obscure for Graham, who doesn’t want to cut defense spending and seemingly endorses a doctrine of perpetual war, is slamming anyone as “out of the mainstream” on foreign policy.
Senate Republicans managed to knock down the appointment of Susan Rice for Secretary of State. The opposition in that instance was justified, based solely on Rice’s role in the post-Benghazi narrative.
While he initially supported the Iraq war, Hagel changed his tune and became a vocal critic of a hawkish foreign policy. Christopher Preble, Vice President for Defense and Foreign Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, recently explained why Hagel would be a solid choice for SecDef:
The biggest boosters of the Iraq war, the Afghan war, the Libyan war, and possible war with Syria and Iran, are apoplectic. And they should be. Hagel, a decorated Vietnam war veteran, understands war, and doesn’t take it lightly.
Although the president will obviously make the decisions, I expect that Hagel will generally advise against sending U.S. troops on quixotic nation-building missions. We might even see a resurrection of another Republican SecDef’s criteria for restraining Washington’s interventionist tendencies. At a minimum, Hagel will reflect Colin Powell’s view that “American GIs [are] not toy soldiers to be moved around on some sort of global game board.”
I don’t put much stock in the neoconservative echo chamber’s claim that Hagel will have a tough time being confirmed. As David Boaz pointed out in 2010, Hagel’s other views should put him squarely in the conservative Republican camp. Aside from the small (and shrinking) Interventionist Caucus in the Senate, on what grounds would other Republicans oppose his nomination? Because he learned the error of his ways in initially supporting the Iraq war, and many of them never did? If more Republicans had come to their senses sooner, they would likely be the majority party in the Senate, and Hagel could just as easily have been nominated by a Republican president.
Hawkish Republicans, such as Graham, also don’t like Hagel because he doesn’t have a problem with cutting the bloated defense budget. Of course, this is an area where most Republicans are hypocritical when it comes to spending — not understanding or refusing to acknowledge that Congress can’t rein in the budget without substantive cuts to defense. God forbid we actually do something in terms of cutting spending to bring down the massive budget deficit.
Are there issues with Hagel? Yes; however, they don’t really have much to do with the role he will be filling in the Obama Administration. He’ll be carrying out policy as directed by the White House. At this point, I’m convinced that the opposition is more political payback than anything else.