There are a number of Democratic and Republican senators obviously still on the fence about Chuck Hagel, President Obama’s choice for defense secretary. Some understandably want to see him at the hearings. Others are trying to do the calculus, measuring the pros and cons of a vote for him. (As for Colin Powell, a favorite in the Obama White House, it is not surprising that he gave a broad-brush endorsement but did not discuss any particulars about Hagel’s record.) This is a case in which, aside from toeing the line for the president, it is hard to figure out the arguments in Hagel’s favor (being a veteran doesn’t cut it, as I have explained elsewhere).
The Hagel nomination raises the perennial question as to whether the president should be able to select anyone whom he pleases, no matter how noxious his views. As a practical matter those who don’t like Hagel’s views ask if any other pick would be just as bad. The answer that Democrats have subscribed to again and again in nominations is that no, a president can’t have whom he wants if there are personal or character issues, if the nominee lacks critical qualifications or if the nominee is far outside the mainstream, even if he promises merely to implement the president’s policies. Hagel has all three problems, which make it exceedingly hard to vote for him unless a senator (like the radical anti-Israel crowd that sees Hagel’s nomination as a shift in U.S. foreign policy) embraces the nominee’s views and wants the president to move in his direction.
Let us start with the personal, which the left has told us for decades is political. His defenders can holler until blue in the face that there is nothing anti-Israel in his statements but it doesn’t make it so. The record is replete with examples. If a Republican nominee invoked the term “Jewish Lobby,” declared himself not to be the senator for Israel, was consistently rude and dismissive to home-state Jewish groups, said U.S. Jews should pay for a USO facility in Israel and had on the board of his organization (the Atlantic Council, in Hagel’s case) a vice chairman who declared Jews to be a Fifth Column, every Democrat in the Senate and every mainstream pundit and editorial board would rise up in horror. And they would be justified in doing so. Unless Hagel never said such things and is unaware of his colleague’s stance toward American Jewry, one cannot brush them aside without contending that these matters are acceptable or inconsequential.
To say that Hagel’s nomination is “not about that” is merely to say that one doesn’t want to take a side in evaluating a nominee’s potential biases or to take heat from those who scream “You can’t say that about a Vietnam vet!” which is surely the non sequitur to beat all non sequiturs. Someone can be brave and have sacrificed for his country and, for example, speak derisively about African Americans and be therefore unfit for a cabinet position.
As for qualifications, we and many others have noted that his lack of executive skills. Moreover, his rotten interpersonal skills suggest that he is not up for one of the biggest managerial jobs in government. But it is also the case that he lacks discretion, being inclined to insult, decry and speak his mind where and whenever he sees fit. As he said when declaring himself not to be the “senator for Israel,” he conceded “most senators don’t talk like I do.” Indeed they don’t. The Post reports:
Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Sunday that questions about former Nebraska senator Chuck Hagel’s (R) “temperament” will be raised during his Senate confirmation hearings.
“I think another thing, George, that’s going to come up is just his overall temperament, and is he suited to run a department or a big agency or a big entity like the Pentagon,” Corker said on ABC’s “This Week With George Stephanopoulos.”
“I think there are numbers of staffers who are coming forth now just talking about the way he has dealt with them,” said Corker, who noted that he recently spoke with Hagel. “I certainly have questions about a lot of things. I begin all of these confirmation processes with an open mind.”
You will recall that “temperament” was the basis on which Democrats blocked John Bolton’s confirmation as ambassador to the United Nations. Then we come to Hagel’s views. Hagel has made a specialty of taking the opposite side in lopsided votes on Israel. He has been consistently on the opposite side of votes on a wide range of subjects including anti-Semitism in Russia (99-1), Iran sanctions, Hezbollah, and support for Israel against Palestinian terror. Ari Fleischer writes:
Hagel isn’t independent. He’s alone.
His position on Middle Eastern matters is so outside the mainstream of both parties that almost no one agrees with him.
In 2000, Hagel was one of only four senators who refused to sign a Senate letter in support of Israel.
The following year Hagel was one of only 11 senators who refused to sign a letter urging President George W. Bush to continue his policy of not meeting with Yasser Arafat until the Palestinian leader took steps to end the violence against Israel.
Contrary to America’s longstanding bipartisan position, Hagel has called for direct talks with terrorist organizations Hamas and Hezbollah. In 2007, Hagel voted against labeling the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, the group responsible for the death of many American servicemen in Iraq, a terrorist organization.
And in 2008, he was one of two senators on the banking committee to oppose a bill putting sanctions on Iran. One of the measure’s biggest backers was an Illinois senator named Barack Obama.
Hagel is the personification of “out of the mainstream” thinking on Israel and Iran. No wonder opponents of his nomination are having a field day with a plethora of extreme votes and comments. The elected official who most resembles Hagel’s extreme voting record and views is now former congressman Ron Paul (R-Tex.).
In point of fact the other nominees who reportedly were under consideration would not be anywhere near as objectionable as Hagel, in fact not as objectionable at all. None has used toxic language about American Jews or been reportedly rude and dismissive of Jewish Americans. Plenty of them have executive experience and a demeanor well suited to high office. And none of these have advocated views well out of the mainstream and in fact in contradiction with the president’s stated views on Iran sanctions.
It is not a matter of simply respecting the president’s choice in Hagel’s case but whether a Ron Paul-like figure will become defense secretary. A yes vote is going to be mighty hard to justify to those outside of anti-Israel, Iran-regime-sympathizing circles. (Iran rejoiced when the nomination was announced.) And you have to ask, if Obama values Hagel and takes his counsel, why wouldn’t he listen to him on his out-of-the-mainstream views on Iran and Israel?