Former U.S. Sen. Chuck Hagel still carries in his chest some of the shrapnel from the mine that exploded when he was on patrol in Vietnam in 1968. The Purple Heart he received from that incident wasnt the only decoration he got for his service. There was another wound, and another Purple Heart, and medals for valor.
He has known from painful personal experience the hazards of war, which is why during a brief tenure as deputy administrator of the Veterans Administration, he quit in protest of suggestions that veterans benefits be cut. That war experience also guided some of his votes as a United States senator from Nebraska, which demonstrated both his conservative Republican leanings and his informed hesitation when it came to war of any kind. Hagel supported the resolution pushing forward with the war in Iraq, but he has not hesitated to express his concerns about war with Iran.
And he has noted, perhaps too frankly, the power of Israeli-connected lobbyists in Washington. Thats the peg that Lindsey Graham, the effusive senator from South Carolina, has grasped to oppose Hagel, who has vast experience in foreign affairs both from his service in Washington and on many a commission and in other private groups.
Graham, who seems to miss no opportunity for self-aggrandizement, is now trying to paint Hagel as anti-Israel, which is preposterous. Consider that five former ambassadors to Israel have endorsed his nomination.
In fact, Hagels refusal to be forced into an ideological corner, his independent stances as a senator, his candor (he has apologized for a comment about a gay nominee for an appointment in the Clinton administration) and his life experience within and outside the military make him a splendid choice for Secretary of Defense.
Republicans in Congress relish a fight with President Obama over anything. This time they have picked the wrong fight with the wrong man. Chuck Hagel is more qualified to be secretary of defense than most of his former colleagues in the upper chamber, Graham included. Hagels career, from battlefield to board room to caucus chamber, shows him to be someone who can, and will, get the job done.