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
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
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."
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.
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."
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.
[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.
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.
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
"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."
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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