Obama’s Pick for Defense Is an Ally, and a Lightning Rod

Chuck HagelWhen President Obama nominates Chuck Hagel, maverick Republican and former senator from Nebraska, to be his next secretary of defense, he will be turning to trusted ally whose willingness to defy party loyalty and conventional wisdom won his admiration both in Senate and on a 2008 tour of war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan. The choice of Mr. Hagel, first Vietnam veteran to be nominated for the post, would add a prominent Republican to Obama’s cabinet, providing some political cover for president’s plans to exit Afghanistan and make cuts to military budget has roughly doubled since 2001 terrorist attacks. But Republicans made clear on Sunday that they would give Mr. Hagel a rough ride on his path to the Pentagon, questioning his support for Israel, his seriousness about the Iranian nuclear threat and his commitment to an adequate defense budget. Mr. Obama may also face difficulties from some Democrats who are wary of negative comments Mr. Hagel made more than a decade ago about gays. Some Obama aides had doubts about the wisdom of the choice, given Hagel’s frosty relationship with members of his own party, officials said they were confident they could corral enough votes from both sides of aisle to win confirmation in the Senate. White House officials confirmed on Sunday that Mr. Hagel was Mr. Obama’s pick for the job and said announcement would come as early as Monday. Rather than turning to a defense technocrat, Mr. Obama decided on independent politician whose service in Vietnam gave him lifelong skepticism about commitment of American lives in overseas conflicts. Like Mr. Obama, Hagel supported the war in Afghanistan but opposed troop surge in Iraq under President Bush. Mr. Hagel, 66, served as an enlisted man in Vietnam, won two Purple Hearts and still carries bits of shrapnel in his chest. He was the co-founder of a cellular telephone company and headed an investment banking firm before being elected to Senate in 1996. He retired in 2009, and now teaches at Georgetown University and serves as chairman of the Atlantic Council, a centrist foreign policy group. In July 2008, during the presidential campaign, Mr. Hagel accompanied Mr. Obama, who was then in the Senate, on a six-day trip to Afghanistan, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait. When Senator John McCain, the Republican presidential nominee that year, asserted Obama’s motive for the trip was political, Hagel strongly defended Mr. Obama, saying in a television interview that Mr. McCain was “on thin ground” in trying to impugn Obama’s patriotism. In the Senate, Mr. Hagel voted in favor of resolution authorizing Bush to take military action in Iraq, which passed overwhelmingly in October 2002. But soured on the effort early, became an advocate of the view America had lost sight of what it was trying to accomplish, overestimating ability to change Iraqi society (…..)

Link: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/07/us/obama-expected-to-select-hagel-for-defense-post.html

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14 Responses to Obama’s Pick for Defense Is an Ally, and a Lightning Rod

  1. Professor Uziel Nogueira says: Senator Chuck Hagel appears to be an excellent choice for Secretary of Defense. However, I wonder whether Pres Obama checked with Benjamin Netanyahu about his nominee. After all, Senator Hagel would be the first Secretary of Defense with an independent view regarding Israel. As I understand, he expresses the view that US strategic interests in the Middle East must come first, regardless of Israel. Can his nomination fly through Congress?

    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/07/us/obama-expected-to-select-hagel-for-defense-post.html

  2. President Obama is assembling a national security team designed for an era of downsized but enduring conflict, a team that will be asked to preside over the return of exhausted American troops and wield power through the targeted use of sanctions, Special Operations forces and drone strikes. Obama’s nominations of former senator Chuck Hagel as defense secretary and White House counterterrorism adviser John O. Brennan as CIA director signal second-term course adjustments at institutions that have been dominated by their lethal assignments during more than a decade of war. Those adjustments could include returning the CIA’s focus to its core mission of gathering intelligence, even though it is expected to maintain its fleet of armed drones for years. The Pentagon faces an even more aggressive restructuring to balance budget cuts against threats, including China’s ascendent military and emerging al-Qaeda affiliates in North Africa and the Middle East.


    The nominations also set the stage for confirmation fights driven not only by criticism of Hagel and Brennan but also by the foreign policy approach they represent (…..)

    In announcing the nominees, Obama said that their agenda would include “ending the war in Afghanistan and caring for those who have borne the battle, [and] preparing for the full range of threats.” He also emphasized their experiences in the lower ranks of the institutions they would run, saying both served overseas and understand firsthand “the consequences of decisions that we make in this town.” Obama avoided one confirmation fight when U.N. Ambassador Susan E. Rice withdrew from consideration to be secretary of state amid criticism of her role in the aftermath of the attack on the U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya. Instead, Obama turned to a compromise pick, Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.).


    The former presidential candidate has established relationships with foreign leaders that could help the administration push for tougher sanctions on Iran, expand its pursuit of al-Qaeda beyond Yemen and Pakistan, and deal with the Syrian civil war.

    Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, said Obama’s selection of Kerry, Hagel and Brennan reflects a change in foreign policy priorities for the second term. Rhodes said all three nominees share Obama’s basic view of the world and the United States’ place in it, a view that favors multilateral alliances and a reliance on intelligence and lethal technology, holding war as a last resort. “These are three men well suited to that task,” he said (…..)

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/obamas-nominations-of-hagel-brennan-signal-course-adjustments-at-pentagon-cia/2013/01/07/5afb8760-58df-11e2-88d0-c4cf65c3ad15_story.html

  3. (…..) Last week, U.N. Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay estimated that more than 60,000 people have been killed in Syria, a “massive loss of life [that] could have been avoided if the Syrian government had chosen to take a different path than one of ruthless suppression of what were initially peaceful and legitimate protests by unarmed civilians.” She added: “Unless there is a quick resolution to the conflict, I fear thousands more will die or suffer terrible injuries as a result of those who harbor the obstinate belief that something can be achieved by more bloodshed, more torture and more mindless destruction.”


    The Assad speech made clear that the ruler and his clique remain locked in that belief. But it also illuminated the fecklessness of U.S. policy. The same State Department statement that began by condemning Mr. Assad for undermining Mr. Brahimi concluded by saying that the Obama administration would continue to support the latter’s initiative, along with the “framework for a political solution” that the dictator had just rejected. Like the Syrian regime, the administration has become impervious to fact or real-world developments.

    Mr. Assad is not the only one who will bear responsibility for the frightful carnage Ms. Pillay’s agency has documented. As she put it, “the failure of the international community, in particular the [U.N.] Security Council, to take concrete actions to stop the bloodletting, shames us all.” Syrians, she said, have “repeatedly asked: ‘Where is the international community? Why aren’t you acting to stop this slaughter?’ We have no satisfactory answer to those questions. Collectively, we have fiddled at the edges while Syria burns.”

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/assad-and-the-us-are-blind-to-reality-in-syria/2013/01/07/0afadf2e-5905-11e2-9fa9-5fbdc9530eb9_story.html

  4. As a writer of fiction, and a fellow veteran of the Vietnam War, I can’t help but appreciate the deep symbolic meaning of President Obama’s nomination of Chuck Hagel for defense secretary. Hagel will undoubtedly have an impact on the policies of the Pentagon if his nomination is confirmed by the Senate. But as the first former enlisted soldier to be nominated to run the military, Hagel could also signal less tangible, though equally profound, potential changes to the way the United States understands the requirements of national security (…..) Being a veteran does not necessarily make one pro-war, or anti-war. In most cases, it makes one anti-stupid war. The only member of Parliament who wept when Britain declared war on Germany in 1914 was Winston Churchill, one of the most combative political leaders of the last century, a man who had fought against the Pathans in the then British Crown Colony of India, who witnessed and participated in the horrific slaughter at the Battle of Omdurman, and the anguish of the Boer War. It was a career soldier, Dwight D. Eisenhower, who warned us against the now seemingly intractable conflict of interest faced by politicians who vote on our military budget, yet represent constituents and whole communities who earn their livings by manufacturing military equipment or serving local military bases. Chuck Hegel was part of a tiny minority of political leaders who spoke out against the war in Iraq, not because he’s a pacifist, but because he thought it was an ill-conceived use of force. If Hagel, a Republican, is nominated by a Democratic president, this would also be a clear signal to the nation that decisions about military spending need to be bi-partisan. Certainly there is a guns-or-butter choice to be made, but debating expenditures on non-military programs primarily involves economic consequences for those who are affected. Debating expenditures on military programs involves the lives of those who are affected. It also involves the protection of all of us and our commonly held ideals. The two debates need to be approached with different attitudes. Congress should agree on the military budget separately and before debate on the rest of the budget can begin (…..)

    http://www.tnr.com/blog/plank/111700/its-about-time-enlisted-man-was-tapped-run-the-military

  5. AS both his critics and admirers argue, the nomination of Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense last week tells us something important about Barack Obama’s approach to foreign policy. But so does the man who was nominated alongside Hagel, to far less controversy and attention: John Brennan, now head of the White House’s counterterrorism efforts, and soon to be the director of the C.I.A. Both men were intimately involved in foreign policy debates during George W. Bush’s administration, but had very different public profiles. As a C.I.A. official, Brennan publicly defended some of Bush’s most controversial counterterrorism policies, including the “rendition” of terror suspects for interrogation in foreign countries. As a senator, Hagel was one of the few prominent Republicans to (eventually) turn against the war in Iraq. Now it’s fitting that Obama has nominated them together, because his foreign policy has basically synthesized their respective Bush-era perspectives (…..) Meanwhile, the imprimatur of a liberal president means that other controversial Bush-era counterterror policies are more secure than ever. Just last month, for instance, while Congress was embroiled in furious partisan arguments over the fiscal cliff, the practice of warrantless wiretapping was reaffirmed with broad bipartisan support. To the extent that it’s possible to define an “Obama Doctrine,” then, it’s basically the Hagel-Brennan two-step. Fewer boots on the ground, but lots of drones in the air. Assassination, yes; nation-building, no. An imperial presidency with a less-imperial global footprint. This is a popular combination in a country that’s tired of war but still remembers 9/11 vividly. Indeed, Obama’s foreign policy has been an immense political success: he’s co-opted foreign policy realists, neutralized antiwar Democrats and isolated Republican hawks. This success, in turn, has given him a freer hand to choose appointees who embody his worldview (…..)

    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/13/opinion/sunday/douthat-the-obama-synthesis.html

  6. (…..) In the meantime, he is reorienting our foreign policy toward a surging Asia and concentrating on rebuilding the American economy. (We also should be paying more attention to Latin America, but that’s another story.) The appointments of Hagel and of John Kerry as secretary of state could have the additional benefit of strengthening our ties to Europe. The personal histories of both, as Financial Times columnist Philip Stevens observed last week, show they have “Atlanticism in their blood.” None of this is about retreat, decline or isolationism. It’s an approach rooted in realism about the true sources of American power and the urgency of getting our domestic and economic act together. It’s the view reflected in the well-chosen title of a forthcoming book by Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations and a quintessential realist: “Foreign Policy Begins at Home: The Case for Putting America’s House in Order.” Haass is a Republican and has his differences with Obama, but this only underscores the quiet consensus that’s developing around what our priorities must be now. Preserving America’s influence abroad depends on first restoring economic growth, upward mobility, fiscal stability and enhanced social solidarity at home. This will require a somewhat leaner defense budget for a time, but the idea that Obama will slash it indiscriminately is absurd. The declinists are wrong because they underestimate the resilience of the American economy, the magnetism of our culture, the continuing appeal of the democratic idea and the difficulties our competitors, particularly China, confront.


    Only our rancid domestic politics stands in our way, and getting beyond our divisions requires Obama to build support for the consensus that’s waiting to be born. That’s why he should not shrink from a broad debate about our purposes in the world. He should welcome it, and join it.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/ej-dionne-america-is-not-in-decline-or-retreat/2013/01/13/a0011164-5c2b-11e2-9fa9-5fbdc9530eb9_story.html

  7. Chuck Hagel, President Obama’s nominee to be secretary of defense, faced sharp and sometimes angry questioning from fellow Republicans — especially his old friend Senator John McCain — at a contentious confirmation hearing on Thursday that focused on his past statements on Iran, the influence of pro-Israel organizations in Washington and the Iraq war. Mr. Hagel, 66, a former senator from Nebraska and a decorated Vietnam veteran who would be the first former enlisted combat soldier to be secretary of defense, often seemed tentative in his responses. Republicans on the Senate Armed Services Committee showed him little deference, cross-examining him like prosecutors and often cutting him off. There was dismay from Democrats and derision from Republicans about Mr. Hagel’s sometimes stumbling performance during seven and a half hours of testimony. “I’m going to be candid,” Senator Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat and committee member, told MSNBC, “I think that Chuck Hagel is much more comfortable asking questions than answering them.” She added: “That’s one bad habit I think you get into when you’ve been in the Senate. You can dish it out, but sometimes it’s a little more difficult to take it.” One Republican on the committee, Senator Mike Lee of Utah, said bluntly, “Senator Hagel did little to help himself today.” The angriest exchange of the hearing occurred with Mr. McCain of Arizona, a fellow Vietnam veteran who was a close friend of Mr. Hagel in the Senate, but split with him because of Mr. Hagel’s skeptical views on the Iraq war. Mr. McCain was a strong supporter of the war, and like many Republicans, he still holds Mr. Hagel’s opposition against him. In 2008, Mr. Hagel did not endorse Mr. McCain for president and traveled with Mr. Obama, then a senator from Illinois, to Iraq and Afghanistan (…..)

    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/01/us/politics/sharp-exchanges-expected-in-hearing-on-hagel-nomination.html

  8. emm305:John MCain’s mother is still alive at 100. That means McCain could be in the Senate for another 30 years. How much more can we endure?

    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/01/us/politics/sharp-exchanges-expected-in-hearing-on-hagel-nomination.html

  9. Sophia: I would prefer his mother was in the Senate instead of her embarrassment of a son.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/01/us/politics/sharp-exchanges-expected-in-hearing-on-hagel-nomination.html

  10. Like many people, we had questions we wanted Chuck Hagel to answer at his confirmation hearing for defense secretary on Thursday. What are his real views about Israel, Iran and the use of American 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? Mr. Hagel was disappointingly unsure of himself at times during the hearing (Former Senators Sam Nunn and John Warner, who endorsed him, offered up a better defense of his candidacy than Mr. Hagel did). The senators, especially Republicans, did a poor job of drawing substance out of the moment. But after his appearance, it’s clear that Mr. Hagel is very much in the mainstream of American foreign policy, has a résumé and experience that would be valuable at the Pentagon and is capable of speaking his mind, even if he allowed himself on 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 to do so, 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 Obama good advice (…..)

    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/01/opinion/a-chuck-hagel-confirmation-ordeal.html

  11. (NYT GOLDEN PICK) Professor Uziel Nogueira says:


    Chuck Hagel is seeking nomination for Secretary of Defense /War not Secretary of Parks and Recreation. Sharp questioning is expected from the Senate Committee. He has the qualifications to become SOD. The ‘tough’ questioning during the hearings is just theatrics politics, posturing by GOP senators playing for their local constituencies on TV.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/01/opinion/a-chuck-hagel-confirmation-ordeal.html

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