Understandably, much of the controversy over Chuck Hagel has focused on Israel, in part because his views and rhetoric are so outside the mainstream, and in part because there was already a high degree of concern about the Obama administration’s stance toward the Jewish state.
But the concern about Hagel is much broader, of course, and entails his general posture toward all threats, not only toward Israel but the United States and all our allies. A new pro-defense, anti-Hagel group, Americans for a Strong Defense, released today a list of alarming Hagel positions and comments regarding North Korea, obviously with an eye toward the threats issued today. (The New York Times reports: “A blunt and explicit threat from North Korea on Thursday that its missile and nuclear programs would ‘target’ the United States poses a stark challenge to the Obama administration even as it hoped it could focus its major diplomatic effort on restraining Iran’s less-advanced nuclear program.”)
To be fair, policy toward North Korea has been a bipartisan disaster (with conservative hawks continually warning both GOP and Democratic presidents of the obvious — that North Korea was cheating on agreements). However, Hagel has been among the strongest proponents of what has proven to be a dangerous and ineffective policy. This is Hagel in 2003:
Even as late as 2008, Hagel was still selling engagement with North Korea as an effective policy. He argued for the United States to “pursue the kind of direct and aggressive diplomacy with North Korea that can yield results.” And of course he was peddling his soft-on-Iran snake oil. (“Hagel has long sounded off in favor of increased engagement with Iran. But today the Nebraska Republican went further than he had previously by backing the idea of opening up a diplomatic post.”)
Consider how radical Hagel’s position has been compared to that of a liberal senator such as, say, John Kerry (D-Mass.). Kerry testified today: “People all over the world are looking to the United States for leadership. We are known as the indispensable nation for good reason. No nation has more opportunity to advance the cause of democracy, and no nation is as committed to the cause of human rights as we are.” That’s surely not been the Hagel worldview.
With regard to Iran, Kerry echoed his strong support for sanctions. Whereas Hagel was opposing them, Kerry had long favored “paralyzing sanctions.” So if Kerry is earning bipartisan praise for his acumen on Iran and his understanding of American leadership, then Hagel’s political career (until he ran into a confirmation buzz saw) should have been disqualifying, right?
The problem with Hagel is not isolated to a few comments or one country. Far to the left of even Kerry, Hagel and his worldview — his failure to recognize U.S. threats, his refusal to take a tough stand against dangerous foes and his willingness to hollow out the military — are a big problem. To be an acceptable defense secretary pick can have you continually on the wrong side of nearly every national security judgment.
Hagel’s handlers keep saying he is the president’s pick. Goodness knows why — for we know Hagel’s views haven’t meshed with the president’s stated policies and have been deeply flawed. But if he’s just going to be a buddy for the president, he can take a White House job — and leave the defense of America to someone else.