Bring on a quick confirmation for Hagel

February 1, 2013 

The following editorial appeared in the New York Times on Friday:

Like many people, we had questions we wanted Chuck Hagel to answer at his confirmation hearing for defense secretary Thursday. What are his real views about Israel, Iran and the use of U.S. power to police the world? Why did he say such ridiculous things about a gay ambassadorial candidate in 1998? How did his views evolve, if, indeed, they have?

Hagel was disappointingly unsure of himself at times during the hearing (former Sens. Sam Nunn and John Warner, who endorsed him, offered up a better defense of his candidacy than Hagel did). The senators, especially Republicans, did a poor job of drawing substance out of the moment.

But after Hagel’s appearance, it’s clear that he is very much in the mainstream of U.S. foreign policy, has a resume and experience that would be valuable at the Pentagon and is capable of speaking his mind, even if he allowed himself Thursday to back off on some positions, like his concern for Palestinians, in the face of a Republican attack on his nomination. Republicans on the military affairs panel may vote against him for political reasons, but they have no cause, and he should be confirmed by the full Senate.

There is much to like about the approach to national security policy taken by this decorated Vietnam veteran and former senator who is among a fading breed of sensible, moderate Republicans. Republicans do not like him straying from positions on whether it was wise to leave Iraq, whether sanctions are working on Iran and on other issues, but that independence is among his more attractive qualities, especially in a fast-changing and complex world. He will give President Barack Obama good advice.

Hagel’s opponents fret that he will not be sufficiently in lock step with the current Israeli government and cannot be counted on to go to war over Iran’s nuclear program if it comes to that. As a result, the hearing focused excessively on Israel and Iran and ignored many other important challenges – including the growing militancy in northern Africa and the war in Afghanistan.

Sens. John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Ted Cruz of Texas, all Republicans, were particularly snide and dismissive of Hagel and more interested in bullying him and playing a game of gotcha than in eliciting thoughtful policy responses.

Hagel repeatedly proclaimed support for Israel, and he firmly agreed with Obama’s policy that Iran’s nuclear program must be prevented, not contained. But no explanation by Hagel was ever enough for his camera-conscious critics.

The Republicans did their best to make it seem as if Hagel’s support for a group called Global Zero, which advocates deep cuts in nuclear weapons, was some kind of wild-eyed, left-wing plot. The group is backed by many responsible figures, including James Cartwright, a former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

In 1998, as a senator from Nebraska, Hagel sneered that an ambassadorial candidate was “openly, aggressively gay.” It was a blindly bigoted comment and raised questions about how he would implement the removal of the military’s ban on openly gay members.

At the hearing, Hagel expressed his commitment to equal treatment of all service members and said he would do “everything possible under current law” to provide equal benefits to the families of all service members. That was reassuring, but no senator bothered to ask him to explain how his views had changed since 1998 and why.

Republicans were not going to make this confirmation hearing easy, especially after an unprecedented and dishonest campaign to derail his nomination. The Senate briskly confirmed Obama’s choice for secretary of state, Sen. John Kerry. It should now confirm Hagel.

The New York Times

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