Showing the kind of vindictiveness that’s turned off voters to the Republican Party, President Barack Obama’s nominee for Defense Secretary, 66-year old former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), found out the hard way what it’s like to break ranks. When Hagel didn’t fall in lockstep backing former President George W. Bush’s Iraq War, his future in the GOP was over. Speaking his mind, Hagel antagonized the Bush White House and made enemies inside his own party. Now that he faces Senate confirmation, the knives have come back out for all his misdeeds, especially opposing the Iraq War. Asking Barack to withdraw his nomination before a final Senate vote, a group of right wing GOP senators wasted more precious time. “This waste of time is not just meaningless political posturing—because we firmly believe that Sen. Hagel will be confirmed—but the waste of time is of consequence,” said White House spokesman Jay Carney.
Carney and other White House officials don’t get the extent of the GOP’s antipathy toward Hagel. Republicans can’t forgive Hagel for stabbing Republicans in the back over Iraq. What the GOP doesn’t get is that Hagel spoke his mind as a patriot, not a sheep doing the White House bidding. More concerned about the costs to the military, Hagel tried his best to protect the lives of U.S. soldiers. After his confirmation was filibustered by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), the senate looks poised for a full floor vote on Hagel’s confirmation. “He’s probably as good as we’re going to get,” Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) told the Decatur Daily, signaling he’ll vote for Hagel. Despite the cacophony from the GOP’s right wing, Hagel is more than qualified to run the Pentagon. If he doesn’t rubber stamp every defense contractor, that’s not a bad idea.
When Obama nominated Hagel Jan. 7, he knew the Republican maverick would face a rocky road in the Senate. “A clear majority in the U.S. Senate support Sen. Hagel’s confirmation, so today’s actions—run against both the majority will of the Senate and against our national interest,” said Carney, calling for an up-or-down vote. Pulling out omissions or gaffes in his Jan. 21 testimony before the Armed Services Committee, Hagel mistakenly said he could live with a containment strategy with Iran’s nuclear program. Hagel was hammered for preferring diplomacy over confrontation and, if needed, suggesting that Iran, like other nuclear powers, could be contained. While Obama’s official policy is one of prevention with Iran, Hagel also believes, in the worst case scenario, that deterrence could work with Tehran. Policy difference don’t account for GOP hatred of Hagel.
Citing Hagel’s “erratic record and myriad conversions on key national security issues,” 15 conservative senators called for the White House to withdraw Hagel’s nomination. They all doubted “his basic competence to meet the substantial demand of the office,” saying nothing of the Bush administration’s colossal mistakes that cost 4,886 lives and more that $1 trillion in Iraq. Not one GOP senator thanked Hagel for the only rational voice on Iraq, implying that Bush’s Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had greater “competence” in supporting a policy that weakened U.S. national security and practically broke the Treasury. Where’s all the “competence” and wisdom that the GOP’s talking about when it comes to Iraq? Had the Bush White House listened to Hagel thousands of young Americans would still be alive and the country might have dodged the worst economic meltdown since the Great Depression.
Ripping Hagel for saying the current Iranian regime was “an elected, legitimate government, whether we agree or not,” not one U.S. senator opposing Hagel can speak of better options in Iran. Criticizing Hagel for opposing a gunboat diplomacy policy shows the herd mentality among Senate conservatives. None of them acknowledge the Bush administration’s catastrophic foreign policy mistakes. Hagel doesn’t like the current Iranian regime any more or less than any other Senate conservative. What he’s not willing to do is beat the war drums again when the consequences to the U.S. military and world economy are so high. Blasting Hagel for talking of “containment” v. Obama’s “prevention” strategy fails to recognize real U.S. options in Iran: Either the White House negotiates a peaceful settlement with Iran or it’s back to preemptive war and all the uncertainties that goes with it.
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.