On Monday, Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) became the latest politician to publicly come out against President Obama’s potential nomination of former Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel for the position of Secretary of Defense.
Frank, the first openly gay member of Congress, bases his opposition to a Hagel appointment on the former senator’s less than progressive stances on the role of homosexuals in military and diplomatic service positions.
Hagel has been a bi-partisan object of scorn because of his criticism regarding the Iraq war, his calls to initiate dialogue with Iran and his insistence that Israel should not be allowed to dictate America’s foreign policy.
Foreign policy views were not mentioned in Congressman Frank’s objection statement.
Hagel has in the past supported the military’s former policy of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” when it comes to service members revealing their sexual orientation.
Also, in 1998, Hagel was not in favor of then President Bill Clinton’s appointment of gay philanthropist James Hormel to serve as the American Ambassador to Luxembourg. At the time, Hagel said that Hormel’s “open, aggressively gay” orientation could be an inhibiting factor that would prevent him from representing America in an effective manner.
Hagel has since retracted his remarks regarding Hormel.
Rep. Frank now makes the claim that Hagel’s comments over a decade ago regarding the Hormel appointment prevent the former senator from representing and implementing American foreign policy in an effective manner.
Frank’s statement reads in part:
“Then-Senator Hagel’s aggressively bigoted opposition to President Clinton’s naming the first openly gay Ambassador in U.S. history was not, as Sen. Hagel now claims, an aberration.
“I cannot think of any other minority group in the U.S. today where such a negative statement and action made in 1998 would not be an obstacle to a major Presidential appointment.”
Pinning anti-gay sentiments to an argument against Hagel for Defense Secretary did not begin with Barney Frank.
Prior to Frank’s statement of disapproval, the conservative gay group Log Cabin Republicans took out a full-page ad in the New York Times to decry the potential nomination of Hagel.
The Log Cabin Republicans, however, did not mark their criticism of Hagel as one-dimensional. In contrast to Frank, the group piled specific foreign lobbying concerns on top of homosexual liberties.
“Chuck Hagel: Wrong on gay rights, wrong on Iran, wrong on Israel,” the anti-Hagel ad reads.
Clarke Cooper, Executive Director of Log Cabin Republicans, was even more pointed in a statement made announcing the ad.
"Chuck Hagel's weak record on preventing nuclear proliferation in Iran, lack of confidence in our ally Israel as well as an aggressive history against the LGBT community is a no-go combination for a Secretary of Defense nominee," Cooper said.
Cooper’s statements on Iran and Israel get more to the point of why so many in Congress are voicing disapproval of Obama’s mention of Hagel as Defense Secretary.
The buzz about Chuck Hagel and gays seems to be a hot-button springboard to push down his nomination for the reasons Cooper mentioned above.
It is hard to imagine how Hagel’s views on homosexuality have any tangible connection to his potential role as Defense Secretary.
The number of gay, lesbian and bi-sexual persons serving in the armed forces is estimated to be more or less representative of the number present in the American population as a whole – approximately three or four percent.
President Obama – the man who will potentially nominate Hagel and who has vigorously defended the former senator from critics - has already repealed the outdated “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy.
Speaking to Hagel’s nearly 15-year-old remarks on Hormel, Obama said:
“He apologized for it. And I think it’s a testimony to what has been a positive change over the last decade in terms of people’s attitudes about gays and lesbians serving our country. And that’s something that I’m very proud to have led. And I think that anybody who serves in my administration understands my attitude and position on those issues.”
Given the massive amount of foreign entanglements any future Secretary of Defense will be faced with, and given Obama’s recent public affirmation of a belief in gay rights, it is doubtful that the former senator, if appointed by Obama, would ever be motivated or required to deal with any sort of decision that could infringe on the civil liberties of gay service members in the military.
Those that oppose nominating Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense have strong reasons for doing so. However, the narrative of disqualifying the former senator because of gay equality issues seems off-point – even when argued by Barney Frank.