After hours of debate yesterday, the Senate Armed Services Committee confirmed former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense, along strict party lines, with a 14-11 vote. Hagel is expected to narrowly be confirmed by a full vote in the Senate as soon as Minority Ranking Member Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK) says all holds placed on the nomination are cleared. While reasons such as financial disclosure and – in the case of Senator Graham - information on Benghazi have been given for holding Hagel’s nomination, such holds are essentially due to Hagel’s heterodoxy on foreign policy.
A Senator getting much attention for doing Inhofe’s bidding is one of DC’s newest, Ted Cruz (R-TX). Two weeks ago, during Hagel’s Senate Armed Services Committee confirmation hearing, Cruz asked for full disclosure of all speeches given by Hagel over the past five years, along with all his financial backing. Cruz also played YouTube excerpts of Hagel’s 2009 Al-Jazeera interview, in which Hagel revealed he is – gasp! - a foreign policy realist. Cruz’s stunt is now enshrined on Hagel’s Wikipedia page.
Yesterday, Cruz went a step further, speculating whether Hagel had received financial compenation from “radical or extremist groups,” and was misleading the committee. In turn, Bill Nelson (D-FA) stated such assertions are “over the line” and they “impugned the patriotism“ of Hagel. Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK) jumped in, stating that Hagel is “endorsed by” and is “cozy with” Iran. Soon after, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) reeled in Cruz (and, to a lesser extent, Senator David Vitter) to defend Hagel from “innuendo.” Levin was followed by one of Hagel’s main detractors, Senator McCain, who actually chastened Cruz, saying:
“Sen. Hagel is an honorable man. He served his country and no one on this committee should impugn his integrity.”
Cruz represents more than half of the Republican Senators insisting on more financial information before confirmation, asking Hagel to disclose all compensation of more than $5,000 from the past five years, which is three years more than the law or committee rules require.
Senator Levin has stated these demands of Hagel are “unprecendented” and that Hagel has already “provided all of the financial information that was required.” According to Levin, Hagel has already disclosed the last ten years of compensation, writing in a letter: “The committee cannot have two different sets of financial disclosure standards for nominees, one for Sen. Hagel and one for other nominees.”
Regarding the holds placed on Hagel’s nomination, Inhofe says he wants to make sure Hagel will pass with 60 votes, but adds:
“Each day that goes by will make it more difficult for Democrats who say they are pro-Israel to hold out. I want everyone to be very clear about his past statements and his positions.”
When asked about Hagel’s financial disclosure issues, Inhofe says they are not central to the holds placed on the nomination, stating, “That doesn’t bother me. That’s minor.”
As the first rule of the Israel Lobby is not to talk about the Israel Lobby, I will not question deeper motives here, but it’s clear the nomination holds placed by Cruz and others are diversions from something bigger. For Republicans, this is about rebuking a man who refused to follow the party down the path that created the “broken foreign policy establishment” we have today. It’s about punishing heterodoxy. It’s about pushing realism to the fringe.
The net effect of the Hagel hearing has been a stratification of partisan support for candidates and their worldviews, which, I believe, is a good thing. Strange new alliances can be made, as Democrats support a Republican candidate who would operate restraint with our military’s global forward presence. Restraint, in the face of budget cuts, would strengthen our military and prevent hollowing out the force, which would please Republicans.
The Hagel nomination could break the dogmatic stranglehold certain Senate members have on our nation’s foreign policy. If Republicans reassume traditional foreign policy conservativism, they could save their party, and, perhaps, American foreign policy. Otherwise, Republicans risk being pigeon-holed forever as senseless interventionists, who “never met a war they didn’t like.”