Count Colin Powell as one of Chuck Hagel’s supporters in his confirmation for secretary of defense this week. On Sunday the former secretary of state told NBC’s Meet the Press that Hagel is “superbly qualified” for the job despite concerns from senators over his positions on Iran, Iraq, and Israel. And looking at his credentials serving in war and in government, there is a strong case to be made that his appointment will mean a new paradigm in American foreign policy.
Most analysts are predicting a relatively swift confirmation process for Hagel despite criticism from members both parties over some of his political comments. The former Republican senator from Nebraska has been heavily lambasted for his “soft” stance on Iran and apparent hostility towards Israel. He has been attacked for opposing the troop surge in Iraq, as well as some comments he made about the "Jewish lobby." Senator John McCain (R - Ariz.) has vocally opposed the nomination, and told CNN that he is interested in learning Hagel’s "view of America’s role in the world."
Most of the commotion surrounding Hagel’s nomination has been primarily over his attitude on the Middle East and America’s role in the future. But his public service on the combat field and off of it, add up to a mature perspective that is desperately needed in our rapidly changing global dynamic.
Hagel’s approach to foreign policy is a preference for diplomacy over war whenever possible. As a decorated combat veteran who served in Vietnam, he was awarded two Purple Hearts. His record of public service in uniform has awarded him the foresight to make war a last resort. Looking back at a country drowning in human loss and debt from two wars in the Middle East, Hagel’s first reaction won’t be military aggression. And in light of the region’s changing landscape, post-Arab Spring, that is a good thing.
"He knows what war is, and he will fight a war if it's necessary, but he's a guy who will do it with great deliberation and care," Powell said.
In his 2008 book, America: Our Next Chapter, he advocates diplomatic talks with Tehran. More importantly, Hagel argues that third world poverty is where the fight against terrorism must begin. Before he retired, he advocated engaging Syria in order to change the behavior of Assad’s regime. In 2006, he took a stand against the Iraq War in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal. "The United States must begin planning for a phased troop withdrawal from Iraq," he wrote in the Washington Post that November. His instinct towards diplomacy and willingness to say what might be considered "unpopular" make good material for secretary of defense.
During his tenure as senator, Hagel served on the Foreign Relations Committee and traveled with Obama on a congressional trip to the Middle East in 2008. He is known as a Republican who is willing to work across partisan lines to reach creative solutions. Ultimately, the debate over his nomination is really about which path American foreign politics will travel. It can either revert back to the interventionist approach of the George W. Bush era, or it can "adopt a more selective approach in which the U.S. is the dominant force in the world but depends on alliances and sets priorities." Those are the words of Albert Hunt, the executive editor of Bloomberg News. He raises the point that with a shrinking budget, the neocon calls for an attack on Iran may not be even logistically feasible. In a new era of politics and economics, Chuck Hagel is the right candidate to steer U.S. foreign policy in a new direction.