Despite stalwart opposition from pro-Israel and conservative groups, and vigorous questioning by Republican senators on the Senate Armed Services Committee, Vietnam veteran and former Senator Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) will likely be confirmed as Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta’s replacement on Thursday.
In a gesture of ostensible bi-partisanship, President Obama appointed Republican Chuck Hagel to be secretary of defense on January 7. In doing so, Obama consummated a promise from his last campaign season: to nominate a Republican to his cabinet and work with the opposing party like Republican President Abraham Lincoln, whose administration was involved in the Civil War and who Obama evokes as an example of bipartisanship.
Despite Obama's bipartisan posturing, conservatives are not happy with the appointment. Conservative and pro-Israel groups broadcast anti-Hagel ads on television and conservative senators and writers published op-eds bullet-pointing reasons to oppose Hagel’s appointment. William Kristol of the Weekly Standard polemicized that Hagel should not become secretary due to his “Jewish lobby” gaffe, his opposition to any possibility of a military attack on Iran, a 2001 nay vote on renewing the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act, and a 2007 vote against naming the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corp a terrorist group, among other reasons. Kristol also created the Emergency Committee for Israel, which released this ad.
Chairman of the Senate Republican Policy Committee John Barrasso (Wyo.) argued in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that Hagel would make an incompetent secretary of defense because of the aforementioned votes against sanctions for Iran. Barrasso also postulated that Iran has become more dangerous to the U.S. during the Obama administration due to Iran’s further development of nuclear weapons. Fox News reported on January 29, 2013 that Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) promised to delay confirmation hearings until Leon Panetta testified about the failings to protect Americans in Benghazi, Libya on September 11, 2012.
The Free Beacon asserted that Hagel received money for speaking to two international companies who allegedly dealt with the Iranian regime. Moreover, the Washington Post cited Hagel’s “Jewish lobby” comments, his vacillating between being for the Iraq war and the Patriot Act and then being against them, donations to Democrat politicians, and changing stances on social issues as reasons to oppose the nomination. The Jewish Daily Forward reported that in the run-up days to the confirmation hearings, Hagel seemed to be fashioning a new reputation as being pro-action against Tehran’s development of nuclear weapons.
During the 109th Congress, then-Senator Hagel and Senator Obama were two of 15 co-sponsors of a bill (S. 1862) that would have given to Israel “grants to promote the following: (1) solar energy; (2) biomass energy; (3) energy efficiency; (4) wind energy; and (5) fossil energy,” a rather lukewarm show of support toward Israel.
On July 15, 2008, then-Senator Joe Biden introduced a bill (S.3263), whose co-sponsors included Senators Hagel, Obama, Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, which would have directed the secretary of state to work closely with Pakistan to develop counterterrorism efforts.In a 60 Minutes interview, Leon Panetta asserted his belief that the Pakistani government harbored bin Laden, and issued his disbelief that Pakistan charged the doctor who helped the CIA find bin Laden with treason. Osama bin Laden was killed in Abbottabad, Pakistan on May 2, 2012.
Just as Hagel opposed sanctions on Iran while a senator, the Obama administration opposed sanctions being placed on Iran in November 2012, according to Foreign Policy magazine. Hagel appears to have much in common with the approach of the Obama administration toward foreign policy and national defense. He is against sanctions for Iran and pro-creating relationships with governments of countries that harbor terrorists, with a seeming fixation on molding modern U.S. military policy from failures learned in a war that a Democrat president first sent U.S. troops into 58 years ago. Hagel’s background suggests a weak stance toward the totalitarian regime in Iran and a further weakening in the once special relationship between the U.S. and Israel. (As does future Secretary of State John Kerry’s background, for that matter.) Such a frame of mind is concordant with Obama’s, who reportedly declined a request to meet Netanyahu before the November election and whom Jeffrey Goldberg of Bloomberg reports as saying that “Israel doesn’t know what its best interests are.”
Though a Republican in name, Hagel’s background suggests that he will execute the will of the Obama administration with regards to defense and foreign policy. He will likely oversee the administration’s plan to reduce the defense budget by as much as $45 billion over 10 years, a move that will likely provide a more equal balance of power in the realm of international relations.
Will this new world order help the U.S. eviscerate terrorists more or less than it may help Obama appear bipartisan and Hagel achieve his political aspiration? Why are Democrats touting Colin Powell’s support of Hagel when Powell spearheaded the effort to invade Iraq? Why has the administration implemented defense spending cuts and a military budget while not cutting spending elsewhere? Why are they blaming the GOP for Congress not passing a budget, when it is the administration’s responsibility to negotiate and attempt bipartisanship?
Ultimately, Hagel will push the Obama administration's policies. His nomination is good for Democrats who would like a weak U.S. and a new world order. But it is another wrench in the wheels to conservatives and Republicans, and to pro-Israel groups who want a strong U.S. military and a U.S. leader who does not bow to foreign leaders. An "R" next to a name does not necessarily make a Republican.