REJECTING HAGEL – AT 9:16 A.M. ET: There is growing opposition to the possible appointment of Chuck Hagel to be secretary of defense. Some members of the Senate, interviewed by the press, are hedging on endorsing him. And the Washington Post, which runs the best liberal editorial page in the country, has now come out decisively against him.
We praise the Post again for the independent thinking we often see on its editorial page. Unlike The New York Times editorial page, which is the Obama administration's volunteer fire department, the Post has kept its distance.
FORMER SENATOR Chuck Hagel, whom President Obama is reportedly considering for defense secretary, is a Republican who would offer a veneer of bipartisanship to the national security team. He would not, however, move it toward the center, which is the usual role of such opposite-party nominees. On the contrary: Mr. Hagel’s stated positions on critical issues, ranging from defense spending to Iran, fall well to the left of those pursued by Mr. Obama during his first term — and place him near the fringe of the Senate that would be asked to confirm him.
Beautifully stated. The man is on the fringe. I'm glad someone finally said it.
The current secretary, Leon Panetta, has said the defense “sequester” cuts that Congress mandated to take effect Jan. 1 would have dire consequences for U.S. security. Mr. Hagel took a very different position when asked about Mr. Panetta’s comment during a September 2011 interview with the Financial Times. “The Defense Department, I think in many ways, has been bloated,” he responded. “So I think the Pentagon needs to be pared down.”
In other words, cut the guts out of it. It goes along with Hagel's almost 1930s foreign-policy views.
Mr. Hagel was similarly isolated in his views about Iran during his time in the Senate. He repeatedly voted against sanctions, opposing even those aimed at the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, which at the time was orchestrating devastating bomb attacks against U.S. troops in Iraq. Mr. Hagel argued that direct negotiations, rather than sanctions, were the best means to alter Iran’s behavior. The Obama administration offered diplomacy but has turned to tough sanctions as the only way to compel Iran to negotiate seriously.
Hagel's appointment would be celebrated in Tehran.
What’s certain is that Mr. Obama has available other possible nominees who are considerably closer to the mainstream and to the president’s first-term policies. Former undersecretary of defense Michèle Flournoy, for example, is a seasoned policymaker who understands how to manage the Pentagon bureaucracy and where responsible cuts can be made. She would bring welcome diversity as the nation’s first female defense secretary.
Mr. Hagel is an honorable man who served the country with distinction as a soldier in Vietnam and who was respected by his fellow senators. But Mr. Obama could make a better choice for defense secretary.
COMMENT: The Post's editorial is powerfully argued, and is accurate. What is disturbing, though, is that Hagel may be under consideration precisely because he reflects Obama's real views, which the president can now put into force, since he doesn't have the need to stand for re-election. That is the prospect that should frighten us, especially if Mr. Obama goes through with this reckless appointment.
December 19, 2012