Hagel, record held up to harsh scrutiny in Confirmation hearings

BY DOUGLAS ADAIR ’16
Contributing Writer

I don’t see eye-to-eye with many of the President’s decisions, but I do respect him, and I’m not too stubborn to admit when he’s done something worth advocating. His nomination of Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense is indeed one decision I can stand behind. Former Sen. Chuck Hagel seems like the type of rational, bipartisan leader we need to run the Pentagon.

Chuck Hagel’s service in Vietnam would make him the first enlisted soldier to serve as Secretary of Defense. During his nomination announcement, President Obama made a point of sharing that Hagel still carries pieces of shrapnel in his chest from an injury he sustained during combat. Although this is not necessarily a qualification, it is symbolic of his personal experience with war that will no doubt inform his decision-making on issues of defense.

Unfortunately, Hagel has come under fire about his voting record and a handful of quotes that are admittedly questionable. His most vocal critics are fellow Republicans who are drilling him on issues where he strayed from the GOP’s legislative domain. These forays into conservative no man’s land include voting against the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the 2007 troop surge.

On the top of this list of GOP no-nos is his reference to the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) as “The Jewish Lobby.” While this wasn’t the wisest choice of words, its relevance has been grossly exaggerated, and the fantastic leap to insinuate he is anti-Semitic is absurd. When “Jewish Lobby” is used instead of “pro-Israel Lobby” it can give the impression that the speaker does not support Israel, however in Hagel’s case this is clearly not true. In fact, he never voted once against Israel in his 12 years in the Senate.

Aaron David Miller (who happens to be Jewish) conducted the interview in which this remark was made, and he recently wrote an Op-Ed article in Foreign Policy magazine that comes to Hagel’s defense on the “Jewish Lobby” scandal and his other follies. He asserts that in context Sen. Hagel was not suggesting he was not pro-Israel.

Regarding other contentious questions about Hagel’s positions, I would also be concerned about Hagel’s lack of support for sanctions on Iran, his mysterious perception of Hezbollah, and his presumed intention to open dialogue with Hamas except Miller proposes good reason not to worry.

Besides the fact that these assumptions about his views are improbable, and most likely misconstrued, he points out, “we’re kidding ourselves if we think Chuck Hagel will be in a position to influence the debate on any of [those policies, because]…Barack Obama is the most withholding and controlling U.S. President on foreign policy since Richard Nixon.”

On Thursday, Hagel faced his Senate Confirmation hearing, an episode that failed to allay concerns about his record, instead it was an eight-hour exchange between Hagel, feuding Republicans and some dubious liberals. He fielded questions from a combative John McCain that devolved into a flare of bitter theatrics. Then, he went on to be confronted by Sen. Lindsey Graham in a prosecution-style interrogation which ended-up seeming pedantic. Hagel could’ve handled this discord with more tact, but his performance shouldn’t detract from the appraisal of his qualification for the position.

Questions? Douglas First at dadair@fandm.edu.

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