Hagel Confirmation: A Dark Day in the Senate
February 26, 2013, the day the United States Senate confirmed former Senator Chuck Hagel to be the next Secretary of Defense, will long be remembered as the day the Senate voted to degrade the U.S. military, discourage our allies, and encourage our enemies.
This is the sad conclusion from the 58 to 41 vote that confirmed Hagel. The reason is simple. Hagel perfectly reflects the dangerous and even radical view of Barack Obama. It is a view that says the American military is too large, our allies too independent, and our enemies frequently misunderstood.
Hagel was always an undistinguished and mediocre choice for a senior cabinet post. His only accomplishment as a two-term senator from Nebraska was his reputation as a cranky contrarian. A nominal Republican, Hagel delighted in opposing his party and pleasing the media.
His nomination almost went off the rails during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Repeatedly Hagel disavowed former statements and seemed confused about the role of Defense Secretary. He even made the astounding assertion that as Secretary of Defense he would not be a policy maker, a statement that baffled members of the committee but surely must have pleased the president.
The key to the Hagel confirmation was the 71 to 27 vote to end debate on the nomination and proceed to the confirmation vote. The 71 votes to proceed included 18 Republicans, all but four of whom then voted against Hagel for confirmation.
These 14 Republicans can now say that they were against the Hagel nomination after they were for it. Included in this group were John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and Kelly Ayotte, three senators who conducted serious opposition to Hagel. Jeff Flake joined McCain in voting to end debate and then voted against Hagel for confirmation.
Hagel will now serve as Obama’s stand-in at the Pentagon, a totally reliable yes-man eager to implement the president’s second term defense policy. At the top of the list will be the administration’s determination to hollow out the military by reducing readiness across the board. Along with troop cuts, Obama and Hagel will cut spending on everything from ships to airplanes and will work to reduce the nation’s nuclear capability.
An immediate task will be the effort to accelerate the withdrawal from Afghanistan. This will leave an unfinished war effort sure to backfire, as did the administration’s inconclusive withdrawal from Iraq. A weak and corrupt Afghan government will be left at the mercy of the ever-patient Taliban and a newly inspired Al Qaeda.
Then will come the real showdown as the United States and our allies face a nuclear-armed Iran. Hagel, like Obama, is a skeptic on Iran. As a senator, he opposed unilateral sanctions against Iran and is sure to reject any use of force to stop the Iranian determination to acquire nuclear weapons and the capacity to deliver them against its neighbors. American policy against a nuclear-armed Iran will shift from prevention to containment.
Along the way, the United States will face a resurgent Al Qaeda in Africa and elsewhere, a defiant Russia determined to regain its superpower status, an emerging China with menacing military motives, and a host of challenges that include the unpredictable and potentially lethal North Korea.
While America’s foes make mischief, our allies will emerge wary and confused. Sure to be on guard will be the State of Israel. Hagel’s record of support for Israel is a dismal one. He relentlessly bashed our strongest Middle East ally at every turn as a United States Senator. Although he pledged strong support for Israel in his confirmation hearing, Hagel will mirror Obama’s hostility to the only free democracy in the Middle East; he will join the president in promoting the futile pursuit of the so-called two state solution between Israel and the Palestinians.
Hagel will enter the Pentagon wounded from his contentious confirmation struggle. He was a poor choice from the beginning, lacking the credentials and independent status of former Defense Secretaries Leon Panetta, Robert Gates, Donald Rumsfeld, and William Cohen. Now he will be exposed for all to see.
None of this will trouble President Obama. He now has his man as the civilian leader of the military; together they will implement his agenda. Although Obama and Hagel are the short-term winners, the long-term losers are the men and women who serve their country in uniform and the nation that will be left weakened and vulnerable.