When The Small Get Smaller

Yesterday, a Senate subcommittee held hearing on President Obama’s nomination for the next Secretary of Defense.  If the Country (or the world) needed a new and lower standard for Senate behavior, the hearings were a success.

Chuck Hagel, himself a former Republican Senator from Nebraska, was the nominee.  Center stage for the “anti Hagel” crowd were Senators Lindsay Graham, John McCain, and Ted Cruz.  Behind this stage,  and filling the airways was anonymous Super Pac money.  Hmmm.

Let’s be clear these hearings were not about whether Hagel is qualified to be in charge of an over $600 billion a year budget.  Nor was it whether Hagel would work well with the rest of the President’s staff and with Congress.  Rather these hearings were to provide an opportunity for certain Republicans to trash the President (via repudiation of his nominee) and pander to certain influential constituents.

Hagel was grilled on a number of statements he made in the past.  “The Jewish lobby” which more accurately should have been called “the Pro-Israel lobby” was an anti-Hagel favorite.  Lindsay Graham had the audacity to look down at Hagel and ask him to name one Senator who had been “intimidated” by these lobbies, or one action the Senate took because of these lobby’s influence.  Anyone with even the slightest knowledge of Washington knows AIPAC would not spend the money it does if it did not feel its influence was being felt.

John McCain might have been the saddest example.  Clinging to his misguided (but well intended) support of the Iraq War and in particular, the Surge, pounded Hagel with “was the surge successful or not, yes or no”.  Hagel said he would let history decide but there were greater issues involved.  According to Hagel, the US lost over 1000 soldiers during the surge and the gains must be viewed in that context too.  History surprisingly also contains the fact that coincident with the extra 20,000 troops, the military began paying certain militias not to make trouble.  Many now believe these payments were more important than pure feet on the ground.

Ted Cruz is the new Senator from Texas.  Cruz brought forward 2009 interviews with Al Jazeera.  On two occasions, provocative questions were asked (had Israel committed war crimes and has the US acted like a bully) and to both questions Hagel did not respond (either endorsing or denouncing).  This Cruz said was not actions of someone who should be Secretary of Defense.  In an insightful way, Cruz might just have it backwards.

Former Secretary of Defense Bob Gates and current Secretary Leon Panetta were both successful leaders as best we can judge.  Both got along with Congress and both seemed to work well with other White House staff.  Neither of them, however, would give President Bush (aka Cheney) a free pass on Iraq.  Neither would avoid expressing frustrations with Israel although neither would be likely to do it in public.

Foreign policy and defense policy which is derived from it are the policies the President selects.  Chuck Hagel certainly will input to policy development as will the Joint Chiefs.  At the end of the day, the Policy will be the President’s.

Hagel brings a special knowledge about what it is like to be a soldier.  Hagel volunteered for duty in the Vietnam War as an enlisted man, a grunt.  When wars are fought, it is the common person who dies the most often. 

War should be the last resort and not a tactical ploy which supports some dubious foreign policy.  Hagel’s past comments signal someone who does not parrot the standard neoconservative line.

Strangely, Hagel’s views are legitimate points where persons of good faith could differ.  Denigrating Hagel, however, makes the denigrators appear even smaller than they were. 


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