On Monday President Obama officially nominated former Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel for the position of Secretary of Defense. On Sunday, disapproving Republican senators took a preemptive trip to the morning talk shows to announce they would attempt to shut down a Hagel confirmation.
The majority of Republicans on the Senate House Services Committee have already confirmed or hinted they will oppose Hagel as well, according to the Washington Post.
Hagel’s non-intervention tendencies regarding America’s role in the Middle East – most notably in Israel and Iran – put him at direct odds with a vocal segment of his former party that would like to see the United States deliver more money, manpower and military to controlling affairs in the region.
Hagel has in the past voiced discontent regarding the influence of powerful pro-Israel lobbies in Washington and has also called for direct dialogue between Iran and the United States. Both of these opinions have drawn Republican ire.
South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham has thus far been the loudest and most disparaging critic of Hagel. Speaking on CNN Sunday, Graham characterized Hagel’s foreign policy ideas as “out of the mainstream.”
"Chuck Hagel, if confirmed to be Secretary of Defense, would be the most antagonistic secretary of defense towards the State of Israel in our nation's history,” Graham said. “Not only has he said you should directly negotiate with Iran, sanctions won't work, that Israel must negotiate with Hamas, an organization, terrorist group that lobs thousands of rockets into Israel. He also was one of 12 Senators who refused to sign a letter to the European Union trying to designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organization.”
Graham has been a leading Republican voice for coordinating with Israel on military efforts to stop Iran from enriching uranium. He has called progressively harsher American sanctions against Iran “a miserable failure” with regards to ending the country’s nuclear program, and said, “We need to have red lines coordinated with Israel and end this before it gets out of hand."
Hagel does not currently support increased unilateral sanctions or war strikes as a means of dealing with the possibility of a nuclear Iran.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, while less overt in his Hagel-bashing than Graham, also used Sunday morning to cast doubt on the nominee’s ability and/or willingness to get involved in conflict between Israel and Iran.
“I'm going to take a look at all the things that Chuck has said over the years and review that," McConnell said on ABC’s This Week.
Taking a shot at Hagel’ reluctance for conflict with Iran and views that defense spending must be reduced, McConnell added that any defense nominee must have “a full understanding of our close relationship with our Israeli allies, the Iranian threat and the importance of having a robust military."
Florida Senator Marco Rubio, often mentioned in GOP circles as a potential 2016 presidential candidate, has also floated his dissension to Hagel, citing the former senator’s support for lifting a longstanding U.S. trade embargo with Cuba.
“Promoting democracy in Latin America is a priority for Senator Rubio,” said Alex Conant, the senator’s communications director. Conant gave this clarification of Rubio’s Hagel opposition to a reporter at the Washington Free Beacon, which is edited by the son-in-law of GOP insider Bill Kristol.
Republican Texas Senator John Cornyne also opposes Hagel’s nomination. In addition to disagreeing with Hagel’s views that Israel should be less dependent on America, Cornyne told the Washington Post that he also dismisses Hagel’s idea that global nuclear disarmament is possible and should be pursued.
In addition to being hit with criticism from Republican lawmakers, Hagel has also been subjected to the wrath of influential GOP powerbrokers like Kristol.
Kristol, a man who has been influential in keeping neo-conservative foreign policy at the center of the Republican Party, has used his media platforms at the Weekly Standard and Fox News to denigrate Hagel’s nomination, labeling him as “a bitter opponent of Israel.”
Kristol has also been using his right-wing advocacy group the Emergency Committee for Israel to smear Hagel. The group has been running attack ads that build up to the phrase: “For Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel is not a responsible option.”
The official Republican Party website GOP.com also currently features links to news articles that pick Hagel apart.
It is ironic to see Republicans close ranks against Hagel, a man who used to be in their fold. In fact, depending on whom you ask, Chuck Hagel still qualifies as a strong Republican given his position as a fiscal conservative and believer in the importance of American military might.
However, Chuck Hagel seems to be more realist than ideologue, and that more than anything seems to have Republicans seething. In current American times of fiscal crisis, Hagel has said he realizes the need to work with a reduced defense budget. Many Republicans, however, consider the Pentagon off-limits when it comes to spending cuts.
Hagel’s refusal to pick a side in a Middle East peace process also angers some Republicans, who have thus labeled him anti-Israel.
However, Hagel on Monday told the Lincoln Journal Star that his views are not at all in conflict with steadfast support for Israel.
Responding to criticism that he didn’t follow the lead of fellow Republican Senators and sign on to certain policy statements circulated by the pro-Israel lobby American Israel Public Affairs Committee Hagel said, “I didn't sign on to certain resolutions and letters because they were counter-productive and didn't solve a problem. How does that further the peace process in the Middle East?
"Israel is in a very, very difficult position. No border that touches Israel is always secure. We need to work to help protect Israel, so it doesn't get isolated. Furthering the peace process in the Middle East is in Israel’s interest.”
It will be interesting to see how Republican senators and mouthpieces who oppose Hagel react to such reasoning in the coming weeks and months of his confirmation process.