Multiple sources confirm that President Barack Obama will tap 66-year-old former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) to replace outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. Before Barack won his first term Nov. 4, 2008, Hagel was named as a possible successor to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, also a Republican. Continuity kept Gates in place, while the president figured out how to extricate the U.S. from the most costly boondoggle in U.S. history: The $1 trillion-Iraq War. Hagel exemplified what the late President John F. Kennedy’s 1957 Pulitzer-Prize winning book called “Profiles in Courage.” Hagel bucked former President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and their Neocon cabal led by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz opposing the Iraq War. Seeing through the smoke blowing, Hagel didn’t accept the Bush White House connection between Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda’s Osama bin Laden.
Bush and Cheney often referred to Iraq as “the central front in the war on terror,” leading 60% of Americans polled to believe Saddam was responsible for Sept. 11. With the entire Republican Party closing ranks and backing Bush, Hagel bucked the White House, insisting that the Iraq War was not in the national security interest of the United States. Picking Hagel has already antagonized pro-Israeli liberals on the left and Neocons on the right. What most didn’t get was that the distinction between the American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee [AIPAC] and Neocons didn’t exist. Bush’s Neocon coterie included Wolfowitz and Pentagon Office of Special Plans’ Richard Perle, Douglas Feith Jr., academics like former Harvard Professor Daniel Pipes, ultraconservative author and GOP kitchen Cabinet advisor Norman Podhoretz, and conservative columnists William Kristol and Charles Krauthhammer.
What joins the Neocons at the hip is their unconditional support of Israel. Once referring to AIPAC as the “Jewish Lobby,” Hagel antagonized some of the nation’s most conservative, Israel-backing voices, including Kristol and Podhoretz. When Sept. 11 pulled the rug from underneath the intelligence community, the Bush White House looked more heavily to Israel to combat a growing Islamic threat. Former President George W. Bush was the first to shun Palestine Liberation Organization President Yasser Arafat for his long-known ties to terrorists. Bush’s doctrine prevented the U.S. from doing business with any group or state that practices terrorism for any reason, including the Palestinian’s justification of “resistance.” As the Israeli lobby became seamless with the Bush White House, Hagel objected on the grounds that the two didn’t necessarily have the same goals.
Hagel also has detractors from the gay lobby, including former Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) for his anti-gay remarks against Luxemburg Amb. James Hormel during 1998 Senate confirmation hearings. Hagel has since apologized for calling Hormel “openly aggressively gay” in a 1998 interview. “They are representing our lifestyle, our values, our standards, Hagel told the Omaha World Herald. “And I think it is an inhibiting factor to be gay—openly aggressively gay like Mr. Hormel—to do an effective job,” said Hagel, running afoul with the gay community. In a recent interview, Obama defended Hagel’s record and apologized to the gay community. “I’ve served with Chuck Hagel,” Barack told David Gregory on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “I know him. He is a patriot. He is somebody who has done extraordinary work, both in the United State Senate [and] somebody who served this country with valor in Vietnam.”
Before the gay or Israeli lobby jump all over Hagel they should consider these facts. Whatever he said or didn’t say in the past, he stood up to the Bush administration when the nation was led down the garden path after Sept. 11. Hagel sacrificed his GOP career standing up to the Neocon cabal that accused everyone of treason if they didn’t go along with the White House. As Defense Secretary, Hagel won’t set U.S. defense policy but carry out the president’s orders. Obama can rely on Hagel to give him the unvarnished truth on matters of national security and defense. Unlike some of his predecessors as Defense Secretary, Hagel’s reluctance to put U.S. troops into harm’s way comes from first hand experience in Vietnam, including two Purple Hearts. Hagel’s reluctance to impose harsh sanctions on Iran stems from his preference for diplomacy over coercion and intimidation.
With the “fiscal cliff” safely behind him, Obama can roll the dice with Hagel, promising to get hazed by both the left and right. Disliked by both sides, Hagel has proven himself beyond reproach, no pushover or Party cheerleader, only his own man with impeccable integrity. Obama knows he can count on Hagel for nonpartisan advice, balancing real national security and defense interests against the avalanche of Washington politics. Before Barney Frank jumps on the bandwagon opposing Hagel, he should feel free to question his real attitudes toward gays in the military and elsewhere. Pro-Israeli groups should consider closely the context of Hagel’s remarks about the so-called “Jewish lobby,” that along with Bush and Cheney’s Neocons, pushed the U.S. into a costly war in Iraq. No matter what the pressure in or out of Washington, Barack can count on Hagel for solid advice.
About the Author
John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’s editor of OnlineColumnist.com and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma.