The Cable

Republican senators were for Hagel, before they were against him

A growing number of GOP senators have expressed concerns about the potential nomination of Chuck Hagel to be Obama's next secretary of defense, but only four years ago many of these same Republicans praised Hagel as a statesman and even suggested he would make a good cabinet official.

White House sources insist that President Barack Obama hasn't made his final decision on whom he will choose to succeed Leon Panetta at the Pentagon. Hagel, the former Nebraska senator and current co-chair of Obama's intelligence advisory board, has been fully vetted, as have Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter and former Under Secretary of Policy for Defense Michèle Flournoy, according to multiple sources close to the process. An announcement could come as early as Friday.

Meanwhile, Hagel's critics have been mounting a relentless media campaign against his potential nomination, accusing him of being an anti-Semite, a homophobe, and weak on Iran. A loose conglomeration of interest groups, conservative writers, and national newspaper editorial boards have also attacked Hagel, alleging he wants to cut the Pentagon budget and accusing him of poor management skills. The effort has included documenting the "concerns" of several GOP senators about the nomination.

To "allege that Hagel is somehow a Republican -- that is a hard one to swallow," Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said last week, criticizing Hagel's long-ago reference to a "Jewish lobby" and his record on Iran sanctions.

That's quite a change from the sentiments McCain and his GOP Senate colleagues expressed about Hagel the last time his name was mentioned for high office, when he resigned from the Senate in 2008. At that time, presidential candidate McCain said he and Hagel were "close and dear friends" and that Hagel could have a place in a McCain administration.

"I'd be honored to have Chuck with me in any capacity," McCain told the New York Times in 2006. "He'd make a great secretary of state."

In the summer of 2008, Hagel traveled with then candidate Obama and Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) on a trip to Iraq, and rumors swirled that Obama might choose Hagel as his running mate. McCain was all for the idea.

"I don't know anything about that," McCain said about the idea of Obama picking Hagel for vice president, "except to say Chuck Hagel is a distinguished veteran and a very dear and close friend of mine and I cherish his friendship and have for many, many years."

McCain also said it was good that Obama chose to bring Hagel to Iraq, because even though the two Vietnam veterans had developed opposing views on the Iraq war, McCain said Hagel "has military experience (and) knowledge of these issues."  He also said Hagel was a "respected leader in America" who "served his country admirably, with honor and distinction."

If nominated and confirmed, Hagel would become the first enlisted soldier to ever lead the Pentagon. But now, as the nomination looms, Republican senators have gone so far as to question Hagel's military experience and his credibility with our troops in uniform.

"I don't know how you can nominate someone and make them secretary of defense who has had so much disrespect for the military," Sen. Dan Coats (R-IN) told an Indianapolis radio station last week. "And said so many public things in opposition to the military, what it stands for, the values that it holds. Chuck has alienated an awful lot of people."

Coats's argument, which mimics the attack ads of right-wing groups, is that Hagel is somehow to the "left" of Obama on crucial national security issues and that Hagel has moved away from his conservative principles since leaving office.

"[I]deologically [Hagel] has moved from a conservative Republican coming out of Nebraska to someone that looks like they are out of the most leftist state in the country and exceeding even a lot of Democrats, who also have concerns about his ideology and where he is coming from," Coats said.

But Hagel's positions on things like unilateral sanctions, the use of force abroad, and the role of America are the same as they were in 2008. He has taken no votes that would indicate a policy shift and he has authored no papers that show a departure from his long held views.

By contrast, his former GOP colleagues have completely changed their tune on Hagel in the four years since he left the Senate. During speeches on the floor to commemorate his retirement in 2008, several senior GOP senators praised Hagel effusively.

"In two terms in the Senate, Chuck has earned the respect of his colleagues and risen to national prominence as a clear voice on foreign policy and national security," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). "He has consistently fought to expand free trade, particularly with Vietnam. Chuck's stature as a leading voice in foreign affairs has earned him a reputation, in just 12 years in the Senate, as one of Nebraska's great statesmen. This is a tribute to his intelligence, hard work, and devotion to a country that he has served his entire adult life."

"When Senator Hagel came to the Senate, his actions often reflected his experience as a combat veteran. He did what he believed was best for the men and women in uniform, and he defended his positions forcefully," said Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-AZ). "Senator Hagel has continued to protect and defend the country, notably through his work on the Foreign Relations and Intelligence Committees. He had strong opinions, and he was never shy about letting them be known."

"Senator Hagel's heroism and service serving side by side with his brother in Vietnam is one of the most fascinating, heroic stories of any member of the Senate," said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN). "With that sort of independent background, you can imagine he brought to this body a sense of independence, a great knowledge of the world... [H]e understands the world better than almost anyone, and he works hard at it. He has been independent in his views, willing to criticize those he thought were wrong, including those in his own party. ...  We will miss Senator Hagel."

To those who worked with Hagel in the Senate, the GOP's turn against their former boss is a betrayal of the comity and mutual respect the Nebraska lawmaker and his GOP colleagues shared for so many years.

"Hagel and his former GOP colleagues may have differed strongly on some issues, but there was no disputing his deep credibility on matters of foreign policy or national security," one former Hagel staffer said. "These recent attacks amount to a mix of revisionist history and political gamesmanship, not a substantive examination of his record. And I think most of his former colleagues know that. This whole dynamic is a product of the trial-balloon method; it will change dramatically if he is actually the nominee."

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The Cable

Who might Kerry bring with him to the State Department?

When Secretary of State Hillary Clinton leaves her post next month, several top State Department officials are expected to leave with her. But her successor Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) already has a full team of foreign-policy professionals waiting in the wings to fill those slots in Foggy Bottom.

"In a sense, John's entire life has prepared him for this role. As the son of a Foreign Service officer, he has a deep respect for the men and women of the State Department -- the role they play in advancing our interests and values, the risks that they undertake and the sacrifices that they make along with their families," President Barack Obama said in nominating Kerry Friday.

Clinton has pledged to remain in the job until Kerry is confirmed, which Obama said he was confident would happen "quickly." The Senate is expected to take up Kerry's nomination in early January, but multiple Republican senators have already said they won't agree to a vote on Kerry's nomination until Clinton testifies about the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi. Illness and a concussion has prevented Clinton from appearing thus far.

When Clinton does depart, several longtime aides and officials she brought with her to Foggy Bottom are also expected to leave. They include Chief of Staff Cheryl Mills, Deputy Chief of Staff and Policy Planning Director Jake Sullivan, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell, Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs Andrew Shapiro, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Strategic Communications Philippe Reines, and many more.

Several top State Department positions are vacant and awaiting the new secretary to be filled. They include the posts of Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (Marc Grossman resigned), State Department Counselor (Harold Koh resigned), and Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs (Beth Jones returned from retirement temporarily in an acting capacity).

Inside the State Department, rank and file employees are waiting with bated breath to learn who Kerry might appoint to fill these senior roles. Sources close to Kerry told The Cable that the nominee hasn't yet begun formally arranging his new team, but he has a large team of experts and friends accumulated over the years from which to draw.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee majority staff would be a natural place for Kerry to start. That staff is led by Bill Danvers, who was brought in by Kerry himself and is widely expected to have a top role in a Kerry State Department.

Andrew Keller, chief counsel for the committee, is also a Kerry hire and could make the move to Foggy Bottom. Communications Director Jodi Seth will not go with Kerry to State, having already accepted a position with Facebook.

For the Asia position, Kerry has an able staffer in Michael Schiffer, who was brought on to the committee earlier this year after serving as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Affairs. A former staffer for Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Schiffer could fill the opening to be left by Campbell, unless the White House prefers to send over Danny Russel, the NSC's top Asia official.

Shannon Smith is Kerry's top staffer for Africa and Global Health and could also be on the list to move over to State. Smith was key in dealing with Sudan and South Sudan and is a highly trusted senior staffer. 

Fatema Sumar has been the committee's top staffer for Afghanistan and Pakistan since 2009. Well regarded both on the Hill and in the administration, she is not senior enough to become SRAP, but could be a key part of Kerry's Af-Pak team nonetheless. Perry Cammack is Kerry's key Middle East staffer and could come along to Foggy Bottom even though he is a holdover from the Biden era at SFRC.

On issues of arms control and nuclear nonproliferation, two key SFRC staffers to watch are Anthony Wier and Greg Kausner. Wier has been with the committee since 2007. Kerry hired Kausner, a Navy aviator who traveled with Kerry when he worked at the Senate Navy Liaison office. Other committee staffers include Jason Bruder, who works on Europe, Ilan Goldenberg, who works on Israel and the Middle East, Andrew Imbrie, who works on foreign aid, Melanie Nakagawa, senior council on energy and the environment, and Tamara Klajn, who works on Africa issues.

There are also Kerry people spread out in the greater community, including former staff director Frank Lowenstein, currently at the Podesta Group, who could conceivably return to the fold when Kerry takes over at State.

U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, who withdrew herself from consideration to be secretary of state earlier this month, congratulated Kerry in a statement Friday.

"America is fortunate that Senator John Kerry will be our next Secretary of State, once confirmed by the Senate," she said. "For over four decades, Senator Kerry has served extremely ably and demonstrated selfless commitment to our country. From his heroic service in the U.S. Navy, his principled opposition to the Vietnam War, and his distinguished tenure in the U.S. Senate, to his wise chairmanship of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Kerry has led tirelessly and effectively to advance U.S. interests and values around the globe. I have been honored to work with him in the past, and I look forward to working closely with him again on President Obama's national security team."

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