(Washington) Chuck Hagel, former Vietnam War infantry leader and U.S. Senator, will be nominated tomorrow by President Obama to serve as Secretary of Defense, according to numerous reports. He would follow Leon Panetta in that role. Considered a moderate Republican, Hagel’s nomination to run the DOD is thought by many to be a gesture of bipartisanship on the Democratic President’s part. However, it is increasingly clear that the most bipartisan aspect of Hagel’s nomination is the criticism the nominee faces as he draws fire from important constituencies in both parties. It is not yet clear whether this criticism is something more than typical Washington static that attends almost any nomination process, and that the nomination might face considerable challenge.
Several Republicans have already made public their intention to oppose Hagel, who, as Senator, often expressed views at odds with the stated positions of Israel, America’s most important ally in the volatile Middle East. He repeatedly voted against the imposition of sanctions on Iran in response to its nuclear program, and was vocally critical of the influence of the “Jewish lobby” in Washington.
South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, when interviewed on the CNN show, “State of the Union,” said: “This is an in-your-face nomination by the president to all of us who are supportive of Israel.” Hagel’s nomination is being widely perceived in left-leaning media as a distancing signal to Israel, given from a President who has already had a strained relationship with Isreali Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Shmuel Rosner, columnist for the International Herald Tribune, writes:
He was one of just four senators who declined to sign a letter of support for Israel when the Palestinians began the so-called second intifada in which hundreds of Israelis were killed by suicide bombers. And he was one of a handful of senators who refused to demand that the European Union declare Hezbollah a terrorist organization.
In 2006, when a vast majority of Americans supported Israel’s war against Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hagel advocated an even-handed approach, calling on “both sides” to stop the “sickening slaughter” without identifying the clear aggressor.
Brett Stephens of the Wall Street Journal adds:
Prejudice—like cooking, wine-tasting and other consummations—has an olfactory element. When Chuck Hagel, the former GOP senator from Nebraska who is now a front-runner to be the next secretary of Defense, carries on about how “the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here,” the odor is especially ripe.
Hagel’s nomination comes early in a year that seems increasingly likely to see a showdown with Iran. At issue would be whether the United States would join, obstruct, or remain on the sidelines should Israel strike the Iranian nuclear program.
Hagel is further on record as referring to the Defense budget as “bloated,” and referring to the Iraq War as “motivated by oil.”
If anything, the criticism the Hagel nomination faces from within the Democratic Party is politically more potent. That criticism comes from gay rights groups, who have been critical of Hagel’s stated positions on gay issues. In 1998, Hagel said of James Hormel, President Bill Clinton’s nominee for ambassador to Luxembourg, that he was not qualified for the post because he was “openly, aggressively gay.”
Further, Hagel has been critical of one of the Obama Administration’s prized achievements: ending the Clinton-era “Don’t ask/Don’t tell” policy toward gays in the military. In 1999, Hagel said, “The U.S. armed forces aren’t some social experiment,” in response to consideration of ending that policy and openly admitting gays.
He has since apologized for having made that statement, as he has said he “misspoke” in referring to a “Jewish lobby;” but one gay rights group, GetEQUAL, has already stated its opposition to Hagel’s nomination.
Born October 4, 1946, in North Platte, Nebraska, Hagel received two Purple Hearts for his 1967-1968 Vietnam service. He later co-founded Vanguard Cellular, then served as Senator from Nebraska from 1996-2008. He currently co-chairs the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board and teaches at Georgetown University. Hagel has enjoyed a close relationship with President Obama dating back to both men’s service in the Senate.
by Todd Jackson