Washington Roundup: Arguments for and Against Chuck Hagel's Nomination

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nebraska-senator-chuck-hagel.jpgI have gathered some more views on Chuck Hagel's potential -- and challenged -- nomination to serve as President Obama's Secretary of Defense.

Politico's Mike Allen is calling the nomination "toast" after Senator Chuck Schumer refused to say he would vote in favor of him. Remember that Senator Schumer -- who has many views of which I'm supportive -- nonetheless said in a Senate Democratic Caucus on one occasion, "a vote against John Bolton is a vote against Israel." Bolton never got his confirmation vote, though he did serve as a recess-appointed Ambassador of the United States to the United Nations.

Officialportrait.jpgBut while Schumer hasn't said this, one can easily imagine him informally telegraphing to his colleagues that "a vote for Hagel is a vote against Israel."

Both are untrue of course. Whether Bolton had been confirmed or not as US Ambassador, he like other US Ambassadors is a steadfast defender of the US-Israel alliance. Chuck Hagel too would be a steadfast defender of an alliance that matters. The dividing line is whether one starts from the prism of U.S. security interests -- or starts with the Israel portal instead, or sees no line at all between them. No differences. 

In my view, Hagel is one of the smartest, most experienced strategists around today -- true to the strategic needs of a country in a fragile time.  He also has real combat experience under his belt -- having returned a sergeant from Vietnam 44 years ago this month.

Here are some other views that I have pulled together:

James C. Hormel, former US Ambassador to Luxembourg, challenged by Hagel in 1998 as being an inappropriate representative of the US because he was "aggressively homosexual", writes at his Facebook page:

Senator Hagel's apology is significant -- I can't remember a time when a potential presidential nominee apologized for anything.  While the timing appears self-serving, the words themselves are unequivocal -- they are a clear apology. 

Since 1998, fourteen years have passed, and public attitudes have shifted.  Perhaps Senator Hagel has progressed with the times, too.  His action affords new stature to the LGBT constituency, whose members still are treated as second class citizens in innumerable ways. 

Senator Hagel stated in his remarks that he was willing to support open military service and LGBT military families.  If that is a commitment to treat LGBT service members and their families like everybody else, i would support his nomination.

Leslie Gelb, President Emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, former international affairs columnist for the New York Times, and columnist at Newsweek/DailyBeast sent this comment to me:

I am strongly supportive of Chuck Hagel for SecDef, and I strongly back him despite my disagreement with him on a number of issues. I'm for him because he's been right about some of the most critical issues of our time like the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and on the need to talk to and negotiate with adversaries (though again, I differ with him about Hamas).

He's also dead right about the pentagon budget being bloated. in the foreign policy community, these calls take great courage. to me, we need someone who can say hard truths to power at the National Security Council.

David Frum, former speechwriter for President George W. Bush and contributing editor at Newsweek/DailyBeast:

What I find most dismaying about the debate over Senator Hagel is the utter absence from the public discussion of any mention of the single most important issue facing the next secretary of defense: how to preside over what will likely be the steepest military build-down since the 1970s with minimum harm to military capabilities.

There's nothing in the Hagel record to indicate that he brings any relevant experience or skills to this problem. I find it baffling that President Obama would short-list him for the defense position. I'd feel the same way if Chuck Hagel were B'nai Brith's man of the year.

Senator Hagel's supporters offer a case in his favor that would superbly qualify him as Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs in the Nixon administration. But that's not the job we're talking about.

Robert Dreyfuss, correspondent for The Nation, writes:

It's a sad commentary on both Barack Obama and the state of Democratic Party politics and its national security wing that the president, once again, is considering naming another Republican as secretary of defense. You'll recall that in 2009, Obama let Robert Gates, the Republican who served George W. Bush, stay on at the Department of Defense. Not that Gates was a neocon--no, far from it. But he was certainly drawn from the center-hawkish part of the American national security establishment, whose Democratic ranks include such execrable luminaries as Sam Nunn and Zbigniew Brzezinski.

This time, it's Chuck Hagel, a moderate Republican--who, 'tis true, might be flirting with becoming a Democrat, since he seems to think that the GOP has moved so far right that he can't even see its outer edges from Nebraska, his home state. It would be nice if Obama could find a liberal Democrat to run the Pentagon, someone who'd oversee the massive cuts in military outlays that are long past due, and who'd shut down the infatuation with the Special Forces, the drones and the "pivot" to the Pacific and East Asia.

But no, it's Hagel, it appears--someone whose decided tilt against Israel and its omnipresent allies in the Israel lobby (or, as Hagel calls it, the "Jewish lobby") is a strong point in his favor, especially if the United States is to avoid going to war against Iran in Obama's second term.

In any case, the Israel lobby--which, naturally, doesn't exist, and certainly, if it existed, would not call itself the Jewish lobby--is mobilizing all neoconservative hands on deck to stop Obama from picking Hagel.

On those grounds alone, I'm for Hagel.

Harriet "Hattie" Babbitt, former Deputy Administrator of USAID and Vice Chair, World Resources Institute wrote this:

Chuck Hagel's evolution on LGBT issues is a thing to be celebrated, not seen as a disqualification.  A failure to evolve would be a disqualification.
 
He should consider a  statement along the lines of, "Gay men and women in our military have proved themselves to be patriots and important members of our military.  As the recent examinations of their contributions have shown, a policy of exclusion would harm the combat readiness and the security of the United States. As Secretary of Defense, I would welcome their participation at every level of the armed forces."

Bing West, former Asst. Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs and military author, writes in:

Hagel is overtly seeking the post. The Pentagon faces unremitting crises overseas and steep budgetary cuts.  The Pentagon needs a secretary who reluctantly accepts the position for the greater good, not for his own ego.

Adam Garfinkle, executive editor of The American Interest writes at his excellent blog, The Middle East and Beyond:

So, I am given to understand that the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) of B'nai B'rith, which more or less boils down to its national director Abe Foxman's personal view of the planet from his Manhattan bubble, is not thrilled with the prospective (not even real yet) nomination of Chuck Hagel to be Secretary of Defense. According to Foxman, Hagel is not pro-Israel or anti-Iran enough for the job. Foxman has accused Hagel of invoking stereotypes that suggest not just anti-Israel attitudes but even anti-Semitism. He used the record of an interview Hagel gave to Aaron David Miller a few years back (more about that anon) when he was writing The Much Too Promised Land (2008) to support his accusation.

It's sort of ironic that an organization with the phrase "anti-defamation" in its own name should resort to defaming others. Well, maybe "ironic" isn't quite the right word; a few others also come to mind. But defamation it is, because the idea that Chuck Hagel is either anti-Israel or anti-Semitic is risible. It seems pretty clear that Mr. Foxman doesn't understand how much damage he does by tossing around such innuendo. It's even clearer that he doesn't want my advice. (I met him years ago within the confines of a closed meeting, but that's another story.) The damage done, and how it is done, is not clear to everybody, however--hence this note.

As it happens, Senator Hagel is in very good company as one of Mr. Foxman's targets. Another of those targets has been none other than Harry Truman.

Ari Melber, a contributor to MSNBC and contributing editor at The Nation, writes in an email:

No matter who wins the election, it seems like Republicans are always on the short list to run the Pentagon. If a policymaker with Hagel's exact background had a "D" next to his (or her) name, can anyone imagine that person even being considered for this job? 

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Steve Clemons is Washington editor at large for The Atlantic and editor of Atlantic Live. He writes frequently about politics and foreign affairs. More

Clemons is a senior fellow and the founder of the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation, a centrist think tank in Washington, D.C., where he previously served as executive vice president. He writes and speaks frequently about the D.C. political scene, foreign policy, and national security issues, as well as domestic and global economic-policy challenges.

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