Washington Roundup, Part 2: Arguments for and Against Chuck Hagel's Nomination

More
RTR20F67.jpg
Reuters

As part of the roundup of perspectives on Senator Chuck Hagel's potential nomination as Secretary of Defense, I have received the responses noted below. Here at The Atlantic is an earlier installment of views that included David Frum, Bing West, Ari Melber, Robert Dreyfuss, Hattie Babbitt, Ambassador James Hormel, Adam Garfinkle, and Leslie Gelb.

This installment includes questions I posed to Foreign Policy CEO David Rothkopf, Bipartisan Policy Center Senior Fellow Dan Glickman, Century Foundation Senior Fellow Jeffrey Laurenti, Harvard Kennedy School International Affairs Professor Stephen Walt, Cato Institute EVP David Boaz, former National Intelligence Council Chairman and former State Department Intel boss Thomas Fingar, and former National Intelligence Officer for the Near East & South Asia and Georgetown University Visiting Professor Paul Pillar. Their responses follow beneath each question.

Clemons:  Can you share your thoughts on the strengths and/or weaknesses that Senator Chuck Hagel might bring to the position of Secretary of Defense?

David Rothkopf, CEO & Editor-at-Large, Foreign Policy

My sense is that Hagel brings many strengths to the job of Secretary of Defense.  He is a thoughtful student of U.S. national security policy who, unlike many, is not easily categorized on a partisan or ideological basis.  In this respect, he is precisely the kind of independent thinker we need.  He also has proven to have the courage of his convictions, speaking his mind...as he did during the Iraq war...despite strong pressures against him.  This is precisely the kind of advisor any president needs.

Dan Glickman, former Member of Congress (R-KS); former Chairman, House Select Committee on Intelligence; former President, Motion Picture Association; Former US Secretary of Agriculture; Senior Fellow, Bipartisan Policy Center.

I am not familiar enough with your questions to answer them specifically, but I have known Chuck from my days in Congress as his Kansas neighbor and during my time as USDA Secretary. I think Chuck has good midwestern values and a lot of common sense. I have always found him to be smart, decent, enthusiastic and desirous of America to be actively engaged in the world. I think would be a fair and thoughtful Secretary, if he is the President's choice. And his Vietnam combat service would send positive signals to the nation's military.

Jeffrey Laurenti, Senior Fellow, The Century Foundation

Strengths:  As a Republican former senator, he is able to bridge the polarization gap between a left-of-center Democratic administration and a strongly pro-military right-of-center Republican party in the Congress.  As a Vietnam war veteran (on the ground, not in the air!) he can speak to the citizenry that honors the shrinking minority of Americans who have actually been called to combat--and speak to them about the madness and futility of war fever that erupts like hot flashes in Washington from time to time.  He also has the bona fides from that experience for dealing with the military brass with credibility and independence.

Stephen Walt, Robert and Renee Belfer Professor of International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School; blogger at Foreign Policy

My best responses to this question are already posted on my blog at "Five Reasons Obama Should Pick Chuck Hagel for SecDef" and "The Art of the Smear."

I would only add that if Obama caves on this one, it will teach another generation of foreign policy experts that honest discourse about Israel is not possible.  And as Adam Garfinkle noted in The American Interest, this is likely to fuel great resentment and a nasty backlash down the road.

David Boaz, Executive Vice President, Cato Institute

As my colleague Chris Preble wrote, Hagel's appointment "should be welcomed by anyone frustrated by years of war and foreign meddling, and out-of-control spending at the Pentagon. Which is to say, nearly everyone."

I think a senator who voted for the Iraq war and came to regret it probably reflects where a lot of the country is today. He's a combat veteran, a two-term senator, and a thoughtful participant in discussions of international issues for almost two decades. Also, he's a Republican. Indeed a conservative Republican. A small band of neoconservatives are trying to persuade Republicans not to support their former colleague. But to Republicans and independents across the country, he's a Republican senator. If Obama appoints Hagel Secretary of Defense, he will look impressively bipartisan. To most Americans, it will look like "a government of national unity" formed to deal with the aftermath of two wars.

Thomas Fingar, Former Chairman, National Intelligence Council; Former Asst. Secretary of State for Intelligence and Research (INR); Oksenberg-Rohlen Distinguished Fellow, Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, Stanford University

Strengths include the fact that he served in the military--a long time ago and for only a short time.  The former attribute gives him knowledge about how a military organization works (his experience was in a pretty dysfunctional period); the latter gives him an "outsider's perspective."  He is obviously a smart guy willing to ask hard questions--something the next SECDEF will have to do in response to pleas from the services and the defense industry for "more" and "better" toys to deal with imagined enemies.

His congressional experience will help him--and DOD--to deal with strong actors and interests on the Hill who will resist necessary efforts to shrink the military, limit procurement of equipment, and close redundant facilities.  I think highly of Hagel's integrity, in part because of the position he took after Iraq began to go south in a big way.

Paul Pillar, former CIA staff member for 28 years; former National Intelligence Officer for Near East & South Asia; Visiting Professor of Security Studies, Georgetown University

Senator Hagel has distinguished himself as a straightforward and independent thinker, including especially on difficult Middle Eastern issues and issues involving defense spending.  These are exactly the qualities that are most needed today in the highest circles in the making of U.S. foreign and security policy.

As the first Vietnam veteran to serve as secretary of defense, he would bring to the job a valuable first-hand perspective on what it means to apply military force, and especially to apply it with American blood and treasure.  Perhaps a weakness is having less experience in bureaucratic management than some others might have--although he was successful in private business before entering government and was deputy head of the Veterans Administration.

Clemons:  Senator Hagel has been challenged as being an enemy of Israel - and for making homophobic remarks 14 years ago about the then nomination of US Ambassador to Luxembourg James Hormel.  Others argue that Hagel has been supportive of Israel's interests but in a way that doesn't make a false choice between Israel and Arab states and doesn't compromise core US national security interests.  Do you think his views on US-Israel relations are disturbing, unconstructive and disqualifying?  Do you believe that Hagel is an enemy of Israel?  Or do you find his views, if you are familiar with them, constructive and realistic takes on US-Middle East policy?

David Rothkopf, CEO & Editor-at-Large, Foreign Policy

I believe the objections to Hagel based on his Israel positions should have no impact on how the President weighs his candidacy.  In the first instance they have been portrayed incorrectly by some as being anti-Israel when his view are far more nuanced and balanced than that.  Secondly, his actual views are the kind of pragmatic, ideology-free perspective that will be needed in the context of the new Middle East.  Thirdly, the President sets US policy for his team not the other way around.

Jeffrey Laurenti, Senior Fellow, The Century Foundation

Do you think his views on US-Israel relations are disturbing, unconstructive and disqualifying?   No. Indeed, they seem to track closely with what most American professional military officers believe about the US-Israel relationship.

Do you believe that Hagel is an enemy of Israel?  Preposterous

Or do you find his views, if you are familiar with them, constructive and realistic takes on US-Middle East policy?    They appear to be consistent with what most American Middle-East policy mavens believe: a secure Israel and a secure Palestine living side-by-side will be essential for peace and security in a much roiled region.

Stephen Walt, Robert and Renee Belfer Professor of International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School; blogger at Foreign Policy

Hagel is certainly not an "enemy of Israel."  He understands that allies don't have to agree on everything, and that friendship sometimes means telling a friend what they need to hear.  He also understands that war with Iran is not a good idea, just as many Israeli national security experts do.   He is more of a friend to Israel than any of his critics.

David Boaz, Executive Vice President, Cato Institute

Of course he's not an enemy of Israel. Are we really supposed to believe that he served two Senate terms from Nebraska and no one noticed he was an enemy of Israel? Hagel seems to understand that U.S. foreign policy must serve the interests of the United States, and that that probably means less promiscuous intervention. I think most Americans would welcome that approach. In addition, of course, he's going to serve the president and his policies.

Thomas Fingar, Former Chairman, National Intelligence Council; Former Asst. Secretary of State for Intelligence and Research (INR); Oksenberg-Rohlen Distinguished Fellow, Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, Stanford University

Hagel is not anti-Israel.  That is a canard that should be dismissed as bogus and irrelevant.  The position in question is the US Secretary of Defense.  Whoever holds the position will shape and implement US policy but will not do so independently.

Paul Pillar, former CIA staff member for 28 years; former National Intelligence Officer for Near East & South Asia; Visiting Professor of Security Studies, Georgetown University

Senator Hagel's views on these issues are refreshingly constructive and realistic.  It is absurd to label him as an enemy of Israel.  His positions on issues related to Israel are far more in the interests of the State of Israel than are the positions of his principal accusers.

The accusers confuse the interests of Israel with the wishes of the current right-wing Israeli government--which represent something very different and which are undermining the long-term prospects of a strong, democratic, Jewish state living at peace with its neighbors and with the international community.  Even without that confusion about Israeli interests, Americans should have a secretary of defense who puts U.S. interests above those of any foreign government.

It is absolutely astonishing that remarks by Senator Hagel indicating that he prioritizes U.S. interests in exactly that way are somehow held as a mark against him.


Clemons:  Hagel has also apologized to Ambassador James Hormel for his past remarks and has indicated support for 'open service' in the military and protection and support of LGBT families.  Do you believe that given the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell and the rise of LGBT issues in American society and culture that Hagel's remarks 14 years ago are disqualifying?  Given that he is likely to be asked about this issue in a Senate confirmation hearing and will be able to make clear his views, does he need to do more now to alleviate concerns about his views toward the LGBT community?

David Rothkopf, CEO & Editor-at-Large, Foreign Policy
I personally am offended by Hagel's comments regarding Hormel.  I think they showed an unacceptable degree of prejudice.  But he has apologized for them and they were quite some time ago and therefore, if leading members of the LGBT community are willing to support his candidacy, I will defer to them on this.

Jeffrey Laurenti, Senior Fellow, The Century Foundation

Views on gays in the military or in the front lines of public service from the mid-1990s are no more disqualifying than a political figure's fervent opposition to legal access to abortion in the mid-1960s. Even Strom Thurmond ended up hiring black legislative aides -- and he had made a career of racism in politics; and in Hagel's case, battling gay equality was never central to his political identity. When cultural revolutions occur, people who were slow to embrace them at the start, but who finally catch on, are fully capable of adapting to the post-revolutionary landscape.

Stephen Walt, Robert and Renee Belfer Professor of International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School; blogger at Foreign Policy

I disagree vehemently with Hagel's remarks from a decade and a half ago.  They might be disqualifying if he still held them, but that does not seem to be the case.  The obvious thing to do is ask him.  If he is nominated, the Senators charged with approving the nomination should ask him too, and judge his answers.

David Boaz, Executive Vice President, Cato Institute

Attitudes toward gay rights have changed a lot since 1998, which was just two years after 32 Democratic senators voted for the Defense of Marriage Act and President Clinton boasted in his reelection campaign about signing it. Hagel says his own views have changed, and I take him at his word. Besides, he has received absolution from HRC -- what more can one ask?

Thomas Fingar, Former Chairman, National Intelligence Council; Former Asst. Secretary of State for Intelligence and Research (INR); Oksenberg-Rohlen Distinguished Fellow, Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, Stanford University

I personally think the treatment of Hormel was despicable and Hagel's behavior was unworthy of the man and his position, but one must recognize that politicians reflect and often pander to the prejudices of their constituents and that public attitudes were very different 14 years ago than they are today.  The country has moved far in a positive direction, on gender and many other issues.  So have Hagel and many other politicians.  He has apologized and the apology has been accepted.  I cannot imagine that he (or an other candidate for SECDEF) would, if confirmed, attempt to turn back the clock on a social issue that is so clearly going in the other direction.

Paul Pillar, former CIA staff member for 28 years; former National Intelligence Officer for Near East & South Asia; Visiting Professor of Security Studies, Georgetown University

On issues of sexual preference the entire country has moved very far in the last 14 years.  Hagel has apologized, Hormel has accepted the apology, and this issue can be laid to rest.  It probably would be barely a blip in the current discourse were it not for the Israel-related drivers of the discourse.

Clemons:  Any other thoughts, views, concerns, or insights you would like to share?

David Rothkopf, CEO & Editor-at-Large, Foreign Policy

Personally, I think the president would be better off selecting Michele Flournoy to be Secretary of Defense.  She, in her work as Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, her leadership at CNAS, and her prior work in the Defense Department during the Clinton Administration has proven herself to be an innovative thinker, a genuine student of strategy, tactics and emerging trends in international defense and a leader in the national security community.

She represents fresh perspectives, the voice of a rising generation of leaders and is well placed to help lead the transformation that our defense establishment must go through over the next decade.  Hagel would be an excellent candidate and a good Secretary of Defense.  She would, I think, be a better one.

Jeffrey Laurenti, Senior Fellow, The Century Foundation

The next four years will be crucial for adapting the US military force structure to the profoundly changed international relations of the 21st century.  Hagel is one of the rare individuals who can navigate between the Scylla and Charybdis of congressional passions, budgetary realities, and global commitments.

Stephen Walt, Robert and Renee Belfer Professor of International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School; blogger at Foreign Policy

No matter what he does in terms of overall Middle East policy, the Hagel nomination gives Barack Obama an opportunity to strike a blow for a more open discourse on these important issues.  If he nominates Hagel, he will demonstrate that reasonable people can disagree about certain aspects of U.S. Middle East policy, and that U.S. policymakers do not have to slavishly kowtow to AIPAC's hardline.

If Obama caves to the Israel lobby yet again, he will ensure the failure of his efforts to restore the U.S. position in the region and to prevent Israel from becoming an apartheid state.   And his own legacy will be tarnished, perhaps irretrievably.

David Boaz, Executive Vice President, Cato Institute

As Chris Preble says, I hope "that Hagel will generally advise against sending U.S. troops on quixotic nation-building missions." And maybe even that, as a midwestern conservative, he'll advise against military actions undertaken without congressional authorization, such as President Obama's intervention in Libya.

We need to finish getting out of two decade-long wars, avoid new ones, and chart a foreign policy for a changed world. I hope that Hagel could help move the administration and the country in the direction of prudent and realistic policies, and sensible reductions in our vastly increased military budget.

Thomas Fingar, Former Chairman, National Intelligence Council; Former Asst. Secretary of State for Intelligence and Research (INR); Oksenberg-Rohlen Distinguished Fellow, Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, Stanford University

I am struck by the criticism that has not appeared, or at least not in places that I have seen.  For example, no one is criticizing him for what I would consider more serious problems such as being in the pocket of particular defense contractors, having a jingoistic attitude on foreign policy issues and determination to use the US military as a global police force or quasi-imperial tool of American hegemony.

Hagel's balanced, reasoned approach and integrity are his strong suits and no one has challenged them in a convincing way.  Nor has anyone tried, except with the charge of being anti-Israel (the most important requirement for a SECDEF is that he/she be pro-American) and the charge of homophobia.

Paul Pillar
, former CIA staff member for 28 years; former National Intelligence Officer for Near East & South Asia; Visiting Professor of Security Studies, Georgetown University

Look, we all know perfectly well what this furor is about.  It is another instance of a springing into action of elements that are so determined to prevent any significant questioning of destructive Israeli policies, or of U.S. tolerance of those policies, that they will use whatever means necessary--including, as in this case, the slandering of a distinguished public figure--to try to keep such questioning from being uttered by anyone in high public office and to keep from office those who look like they may actually raise such questions.

With Hagel there is the added dimension--involving some of the same elements--that he is seen as a turncoat for acknowledging that the Iraq War was a disastrous mistake and for endorsing Obama.  Otherwise this is a replay of what was done a few years ago to Chas Freeman.  Given the salience of the campaign against Hagel, as I have observed, there is now more at stake than just who will head the Department of Defense for the next four years.  The issue is one of whether this kind of intimidation and the scurrilous tactics that go along with it will be allowed to prevail.
Jump to comments
Presented by

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.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

What Is the Greatest Story Ever Told?

A panel of storytellers share their favorite tales, from the Bible to Charlotte's Web.


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

The Death of Film

You'll never hear the whirring sound of a projector again.

Video

How to Hunt With Poison Darts

A Borneo hunter explains one of his tribe's oldest customs: the art of the blowpipe

Video

A Delightful, Pixar-Inspired Cartoon

An action figure and his reluctant sidekick trek across a kitchen in search of treasure.

Video

I Am an Undocumented Immigrant

"I look like a typical young American."

Video

Why Did I Study Physics?

Using hand-drawn cartoons to explain an academic passion

Writers

Up
Down

More in Politics

Just In