Pentagon Wrong Place for Hagel

By Daily Editorials

January 10, 2013 5 min read

Chuck Hagel served in the Army with distinction, earning two Purple Hearts. In 1996, he became the first Republican in a quarter-century to win a U.S. Senate seat in Nebraska. And during his 12 years on Capitol Hill, Hagel was generally libertarian to conservative on domestic policy issues.

Had President Barack Obama nominated the former infantry squad leader to be his secretary of Veterans Affairs, or had he selected the former farm state senator to be secretary of agriculture, we would have no quarrel with Hagel assuming either post.

But the president has nominated Hagel to succeed Leon Panetta as secretary of Defense. And we can hardly think of another political figure less-suited to lead the Pentagon, to shape the nation's defense strategy, for the next four years.

A former member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Hagel's controversial views on foreign policy and, by extension, national security are profoundly troubling, particularly with respect to America's role in the Middle East.

In June 2001, Hagel chided his Senate colleagues for supposedly lacking the political courage to oppose U.S. sanctions against the despotic regimes of Iran's then-president, Mohammad Khatami, and Libya's Moammar Gadhafi. "Who among us is going to stand up and defend Iran or Libya? Sen. Hagel admonished.

In October 2002, Hagel joined 76 of his Senate colleagues in authorizing military force against Saddam Hussein's Iraq.

However, in July 2007, he backed legislation requiring troop withdrawal from Iraq to begin within 120 days. At the same time, he strenuously objected to the proposed troop "surge," which he foresaw as "the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam."

As it turned out, Hagel was absolutely wrong. The surge was a success.

Indeed, a December 2007 Brookings Institution report by Michael O'Hanlon and Jason Campbell stated the Iraq's security environment had reached its best levels since 2004.

As misguided a military strategist as Hagel proved himself to be with his vehement opposition to the 2007 surge, he has revealed himself dangerously myopic when it comes to U.S. foreign relations in the Middle East tinderbox.

In a 2006 conversation with Middle East peace negotiator Aaron David Miller, for a book Miller was writing, Sen. Hagel decried that "the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here" on Capitol Hill. He added, "I have always argued against some of the dumb things they do because I don't think it's in the interest of Israel."

Hagel's reference to a supposed "Jewish lobby" sounded very much like something that might be read in "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion," the anti-Semitic polemic that warned of a secret Jewish plan for world domination.

The fact is, there is no Jewish lobby working the corridors of Congress. There is, however, a coalition of pro-Israel groups, some Jewish, but more non-Jewish, which recognizes that Jerusalem is America's only reliable ally in the Middle East.

But that's not the way Hagel sees it. He has long held that the United States needs to more closely engage with such nations as Iran and Syria.

In fact, in a 2008 speech, Hagel suggested that the pathway to forging a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians would be to get help from Iran by offering the ayatollahs "some kind of security guarantee."

What he meant by that is unclear. Perhaps, a U.S. promise that it would do nothing, and force Israel to do nothing, as Tehran developed nuclear-armed missiles capable of reaching America's closest ally in the region.

Then there were Hagel's remarks this past May to Foreign Policy magazine concerning Bashar al-Assad's Syria. The U.S. should do nothing to stop the dictator from slaughtering his own people, Hagel suggested, but should "work through the multilateral institutions that are available, the U.N., the Arab League."

If Chuck Hagel's thinking informs U.S. defense and foreign policy during President Obama's second term, we worry the world will be a more dangerous place for America and its allies.

If Hagel's name is not ultimately withdrawn from consideration as defense secretary, then the Senate should refuse him confirmation.


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