President Obama is expected to nominate Vietnam veteran and former Republican Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel to be the Secretary of Defense later this afternoon. Of course, no political news can happen without controversy…
Speaking on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) predicted that Hagel would be “the most antagonistic secretary of Defense toward the state of Israel in our nation’s history” and called it an “in-your-face nomination.”
Fox News senior political analyst Brit Hume described the choice as “very peculiar,” saying on “Fox News Sunday” that Hagel did not have “a particularly distinguished record.”
Many in the GOP are uncomfortable with Hagel because he has previously called on Israel to negotiate with Palestine and because he has opposed some sanctions aimed at Iran. As a Senator, Hagel voted to give W the authority to go to war in both Afghanistan and Iraq, but later criticized both wars, alienating himself from his own party. Hagel recently stated, “I’m not a pacifist. I believe in using force, but only after a very careful decision-making process. … I will do everything I can to avoid needless, senseless war.”
Mr. Hagel’s backers say he will respond to charges he isn’t sufficiently supportive of Israel by pointing to votes he made in the Senate for a total of $38 billion in aid for the Jewish state, along with multiple trips to meet with leaders there. Mr. Hagel, said a person close to the decision-making process, believes in America’s “special relationship” with Israel but also believes that relationship enables officials from both governments to “speak frankly” with each other.
Regarding Iran, Mr. Hagel voted at least three times for sanctions and is a supporter of multilateral sanctions, the person said, adding that Mr. Hagel has opposed some sanctions based on specific details, not a broader opposition. Mr. Hagel believes military action should always be an option but, based on his war experience, thinks it should only be seriously considered after diplomatic options are exhausted, this person said.
On one hand you have a decorated GOP war veteran that has served two terms in the Senate, supported going to war against Afghanistan and Iraq in the wake of the September 11 attacks, voted to provide Israel with military aid, and supported the Iran Missile Proliferation Sanctions Act of 1998, the Iran Nonproliferation Act of 2000, and the Iran Freedom Support Act of 2006. When Hagel left the Senate four years ago, Senator Mitch McConnell praised his “clear voice and stature on national security and foreign policy.”
On the other hand you’ve got a guy that is receiving criticism from many for calling to directly negotiate with Hamas and voting against other Iran sanctions.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell had the fairest response about Hagel’s nomination, saying, “The question we will be answering, if he’s the nominee, is: Do his views make sense for that particular job? I think he ought to be given a fair hearing, like any other nominee, and he will be.”
If he has solid answers as to why he has voted in certain directions, particularly concerning Israel, Iran, and Palestine, then the nomination will likely occur. Republicans would not be well served to block the nomination of a former GOP senator and decorated war hero if it was unjustified; they would only exacerbate their “Party of Opposition” moniker. But if Republicans uniformly oppose Hagel and his former opponents – Democrats – don’t all line up behind him, Obama could be in for a wild ride that would not make him look great, especially after conceding the Secretary of State argument to the GOP over the embattled Susan Rice.
We will just have to wait and see how his nomination hearing goes first…