It may be that U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice is not the worst nominee President Obama is considering for a senior Cabinet slot. The Cable reports that former senator Chuck Hagel is being vetted for a top national security spot. If so, it’s a bizarre and politically dense move.
It is certainly not the case that “Hagel, a moderate realist on foreign policy, would be a comfortable ideological fit for the president. He has publicly supported many of the administration’s foreign-policy moves.” (One clue would be that the left-wing foreign policy guru the Cable quotes as praising Hagel was a strong advocate of declining to veto a U.N. resolution condemning Israel.)
In fact, Hagel has been an out-of-the-mainstream critic of sanctions on Iran, and he prompted bipartisan outcry when he was previously considered for defense secretary. His vote in July 2001 against extending the original Iranian sanctions bill (that passed 96 to 2) was not an aberration. He’s long opposed sanctioning the mullahs.
In August 2010 I highlighted some of the positions he has taken:
[I]n 2006, when Hezbollah’s attacks provoked Israeli retaliation and the war in Lebanon, Hagel screeched for the president to demand an immediate cease-fire, arguing it was essential in order to “enhance America’s image and give us the trust and credibility to lead a lasting and sustained peace effort in the Middle East.” Our credibility, in his eyes, depends on the United States’s preventing Israel from defending itself.
[In 2009], Hagel signed a letter urging Obama to open direct negotiations with Hamas, a position so extreme that Obama hasn’t (yet) embraced it.
On Iran, Hagel was one of two senators in 2004 to vote against renewal of the Libya-Iran sanctions act. (“Messrs. Hagel and Lugar . . . want a weaker stance than most other senators against the terrorists in Iran and Syria and the West Bank and Gaza and against those who help the terrorists. They are more concerned than most other senators about upsetting our erstwhile allies in Europe — the French and Germans — who do business with the terrorists.”) . . .
In 2007 Hagel wanted to open direct, unconditional talks with Iran. (“It could create a historic new dynamic in US-Iran relations, in part forcing the Iranians to react to the possibility of better relations with the West.”) In 2007 he voted against designating the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization. In 2008 he voted against Iran sanctions.
That last vote killed an economic sanctions bill, a move that drew the ire of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).
Hagel’s Israel record is so bad that the National Democratic Jewish Council denounced him as out of step with President Obama. (“Clearly, Hagel has a mixed record on Israel, but that record frankly puts him at variance with the president’s own policies vis-a-vis Israel.”)
It is not clear what specific job Obama might have in mind for Hagel. Like any Obama appointee, he’d be tasked with cutting defense and curbing the U.S. role in the world. The president, absent a matter of qualifications or ethics, is generally entitled to whomever he wants, so Republicans, inclined to give former senators a pass anyway, would be hard-pressed to block him. But you have to wonder what Democrats would think.
This is a Republican who once touted Sarah Palin as qualified to be vice president and whose record is precisely the anti-sanctions, anti-Israel stance Obama strove mightily in the campaign to deny represented his thinking. Frankly, I don’t get it. But the Dems can chat among themselves on this one.