You would think that when rumors surfaced that President Barack Obama would name former Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel as his choice for defense secretary, that Congressional Republicans would have been thrilled.
A fellow Republican would be ideologically in tune with them on many political issues, particularly on the defense side, where Republicans usually tend to be a bit more 'hawkish' than their Democratic counterparts.
You would have been wrong. Many Republican leaders have been adamant in their opposition toward Hagel, who the President confirmed as his choice on Monday. On the surface, the reasoning has been based on comments made by the Senator over the years regarding Israel, gays and opposition to wars initiated by Republican President George W. Bush.
But the fear lies in the future. Those reasons point straight to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Before we address the fears, let's look at the hype currently being tossed about.
The hype (what is being said):
- Comments on gays - In 1998, Hagel spoke against the nomination of James Hormel, Bill Clinton's nominee for an ambassadorship because of his being "openly, aggressively gay". He added that the intensity of his sexual orientation would prevent him for doing 'an effective job'. For a party that routinely has come out against gay rights, including gay marriage, gays in the military and gay civil rights, it is interesting to see that suddenly Republicans are seeing Hagel's past comments as a negative. Since that time, Hagel has apologized for these remarks, calling them "insensitive". In the meantime, the conservative gay rights group the Log Cabin Republicans ran a full page ad in the Washington Post opposing the nomination.
- Position on Israel - Democrats for years looked for statements Hagel had made and utilized them against him in campaigns. The Washington Post blog did an extensive survey called Chuck Hagel and Israel in context. In summary, Hagel has said his mind over the years, and Richard Cohen quotes that "he could be the necessary corrective to the Netanyahu government's expectation that anything Israel wants from Washington it's entitled to get. Nothing Hagel has said about Israel is not said in the Israeli press on a daily basis." An open letter from 9 former ambassadors, five from Israel, urges confirmation of Hagel as Defense Secretary and says "to accuse him of anti-Semitism on these grounds is to reveal a staggeringly deep paranoia-or a sensitivity far too acute to be allowed any role in American politics".
- War opposition - Hagel is not the hawk that many of his former Republican colleagues are. He was opposed to the Iraq war, as was President Obama. He also opposed President Bush's 2007 troop surge in Iraq.
What isn't being said (and what they truly fear):
- Defense cuts - Hagel is on past record as saying the defense department was bloated, so he is already being portrayed as a 'budget slasher'. There are always major defense cuts after wars, and America is heading into that phase now. Republicans have always been the party of 'spending more money on defense than the next guy', and as one of their own, Hagel could be their worst nightmare. One of his first job items would be to pare down the size of the department.
- Iran - Hagel has been in tune with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the American people and the President in not favoring an engagement with Iran. Several high ranking Republicans have taunted Iran, and called for action against them. Chuck Hagel would be the first Secretary of Defense that has served as a grunt in ground combat. He received two purple hearts in Vietnam. Maybe that's why he's more wary than other politicians about sending American troops into harm's way.
- He's an old school Republican - He's a pragmatist. He'll work with the other side to get things done. Not a welcome feature in todays Washington.
- Hagel will be Obama - This adds insult to their injury. The President and Hagel are already on the same sheet of music on many defense issues. There will be less spending, fewer troops, and ultimately a smaller military. The president calls the shots, and although Obama has said Iran will not get a nuclear weapon, many Republicans don't trust him on this, and feel Hagel will fall into lock step behind the administration's policies.
The confirmation process promises to be interesting at best. But ultimately you have a nominee who served in the Senate with honor and dignity. The opposition he faces is probably much less about the 'surface issues' than it is about what Republicans know deep in their hearts.
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