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The Rational Center | Commentary by John Zaring
| Tuesday, Jan 8, 2013

johnzaring2012President Obama has nominated Chuck Hagel, a Republican from Nebraska who served two terms in the U.S. Senate (1997-2009), to replace Leon Panetta as his next Secretary of Defense.  In nominating a Republican to serve in his cabinet, Obama said, “Chuck Hagel represents a bipartisan tradition that we need more of in Washington.”

Good luck with that, Mr. President.

As you might expect – whenever a president nominates someone from the loyal opposition – a group of senators immediately voiced displeasure with the pick.  But no, this time the complaints didn’t come from Democrats disgruntled with their president for nominating a Republican.  It is Hagel’s fellow Republicans who are complaining loudest about Obama’s pick.

On CNN’s “State of the Union” program on Sunday, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina attacked immediately, saying, “This is an in-your-face nomination by the president to all of us who are supportive of Israel.”

Graham was joined by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who said, “I have serious concerns about positions Sen. Hagel has taken on a range of critical national security issues in recent years, which we will fully consider in the course of his confirmation process.”

And Republican Sens. John Cornyn of Texas (a member of the Armed Services Committee) and Dan Coats (Indiana) also quickly announced their opposition, with Cornyn even raising the possibility of filibustering the confirmation.

Yes, folks, no matter what Obama says or does, including picking a Republican for his Cabinet, the GOP is going to whine about it.   In his announcement, the president said of Hagel, “In the Senate, I came to admire his courage and his judgment, his willingness to speak his mind, even if it wasn’t popular, even if it defied the conventional wisdom.”

It is Hagel’s willingness to defy the conventional wisdom which has upset so many of his party-mates.  In the Senate, Hagel was unafraid to break ranks, and often did.  I suspect the nominee’s former GOP colleagues in the U.S. Senate carry a grudge because as senator he withdrew his support for then-Pres. George W. Bush’s prolonged involvement in Iraq and later joined then-Sen. Obama to oppose the troop surge in Iraq.

And as we all know, while cutting government waste is purportedly a key tenant of conservative beliefs, Hagel’s willingness to consider rational cuts to the Pentagon’s bloated budget, which surpasses that of the next 13 countries combined, was and remains quite unpopular with hawks from the right in Congress.

Hagel has also expressed doubts about the sanity of unilaterally attacking Iran, and questioned the grip of the pro-Israel lobby on American policy at the expense of broader U.S. interests in the region.  Hagel once said, “I’m a United States senator, not an Israeli senator; I’m a United States senator.  I support Israel, but my first interest is I take an oath of office to the Constitution of the United States, not to a president, not to a party, not to Israel.”

I find that to be a truthful statement.  Don’t you?  I wish more of our elected leaders placed their oath of office before the wishes of their parties and the wealthy donors, corporations and lobbyists who support them.

Regardless, this is the viewpoint that prompted Sen. Graham to characterize his fellow Republican as being “aggressively anti-Israel,” a label Hagel has flatly disputed.  Over his 12 years in the Senate, Hagel voted for tens of billions of dollars in aid for Israel and never took even one position or vote that put him at odds with U.S. policy on Israel.

The irony is that Hagel’s skepticism about the efficacy of military action against Iran – which his former GOP colleagues are using now as grist to support their view that he’s anti-Israel – is being echoed by a growing drumbeat of politicians and generals in Israel who have reached the conclusion that a preemptive war with Iran, once launched, could lead to unintended consequences across the Middle East, if not the world.  This position is not radical, nor is it even outside of the mainstream.

But Hagel’s reluctance to attack Iran is also directly related to his experience as an enlisted soldier.  Remember, this is a man who volunteered to serve in Vietnam and was twice wounded in combat while leading troops as a sergeant on the battlefield.  He learned in Vietnam, the hard way, that war should only be waged as a last resort.

History has shown that how many people agree with your point of view is not the test of the validity of that view, and the irony, of course, is that many of the Republicans who are withholding their support for Hagel as defense secretary were wrong in very big ways about critical decisions made by the Bush administration in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Hagel, Obama and others in Congress who had the good sense, if not the courage, to raise questions about the Iraq war may have been out of the “mainstream” then, but history has shown that they were correct to question our involvement.  That’s why, for those of us in the rational center, it is frustrating to hear McCain, Graham and others accuse Hagel of being out of the mainstream.

I actually want a Secretary of Defense who asks questions before more Americans are sent to fight and die for our country in yet another Middle East rabbit hole. Don’t you?

 

John Zaring describes himself as a reformed Republican turned moderate Democrat who believes democracy works best when its government actually functions because its leaders are working together. He serves on the Castaic Area Town Council’s Land Use Committee, Castaic Middle School’s Site Council, the Hart District’s WiSH Education Foundation, and he is the West Ranch High School representative on the Hart District’s Advisory Council. A self-proclaimed “New Democrat” a la Bill Clinton, he lives in Castaic with his wife of 21 years and their daughters, Fiona, 16, and Kylie, 12. His commentary publishes Tuesdays.

 

 

 

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