Give the president his Cabinet
Battle lines are being drawn in Congress over the confirmation of Chuck Hagel as the next U.S. Secretary of Defense, which is misguided and regrettable.
Misguided because the president sets policy on defense; the defense secretary carries it out. Since the president won reelection last November, the American people have already spoken on his policy.
Regrettable because there are so many urgent issues Congress needs to address — the debt ceiling, immigration, deficit management, climate change and Iran to name a few — to get caught up in a political sideshow over a Cabinet appointment.
Hagel wouldn’t have been our first choice for the Pentagon, but we believe the president should have the Cabinet he wants whenever possible. The real question should be, is Hagel qualified?
He clearly is.
An Army veteran who saw combat action in Vietnam — he earned two Purple Hearts, an Army Commendation Medal, the Vietnamese Gallantry Cross and the Combat Infantryman Badge — Hagel knows better than most senators what the defense of this country truly entails.
In two terms as a Republican U.S. Senator from Nebraska, Hagel, who served on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Select Committee on Intelligence, voted for the Patriot Act, the Chemical and Biological Weapons Threat Reduction Act— which established criminal penalties for possession of chemical or biological weapons — and the Senate Joint Resolution 23, which authorized “necessary and appropriate U.S. Military force” in Afghanistan against those who were part of the 9/11 attacks.
These are not dovish positions.
But Hagel is smart enough to reconsider his stances and change them if he decides he’s wrong — a quality in short supply in Washington these days. Even though he voted for the Iraq War Resolution in 2002, Hagel became a critic of the war and even assailed Vice President Dick Cheney for saying the Iraq insurgency was in its “last throes.”
Hagel also has the managerial experience for the job having previously served as president of the USO, the nonprofit organization that provides programs, services and live entertainment to U.S. military troops and their families, and deputy administrator of the Veterans Administration under President Reagan. He also cofounded a private sector cellular company and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.
As for his position on Israel, Hagel hasn’t always made friends among the Jewish state’s supporters, but he’s clearly not anti-Israel. He’s voted consistently for military assistance for Israel and he co-sponsored the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act of 2006 urging the international community to “avoid contact with and refrain from financially supporting the terrorist organization Hamas until it agrees to recognize Israel, renounce violence, disarm and accept prior agreements.”
To quote Dan Kurtzer, who served as U.S. Ambassador to Israel under President George W. Bush, “I found him in all the years I served, including as ambassador to Israel, to be a supporter of Israel and also ready to discuss very frankly with the Israelis the concerns we had about certain Israel policies.”
Does Hagel have questions to answer during his confirmation process? He sure does. Some of his remarks in the past regarding Israel, AIPAC and homosexuals were less than diplomatic. We suspect that’s why U.S. Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), while hitting the news shows Sunday, questioned Hagel’s “temperament.” Still, even Corker stopped short of declaring himself a no vote on the former senator’s nomination. Meanwhile, a slew of generals, admirals and former national security advisors for Republican and Democratic presidents have publicly declared their support, not the least of whom is Colin Powell.
Hagel is qualified, and the president should have the Cabinet he wants. Congress should confirm Hagel and get on to far more important matters.