Enlisted man. Vietnam war hero. Born in North Platte, Nebraska. Two-term right-wing Republican Senator. Georgetown University professor. Chuck Hagel.
Now he has been nominated by President Obama to be our Secretary of Defense, as once again a Democratic president turns to a Republican to oversee one-half of the military-industrial complex.
Naturally, since Obama chose him, the usual suspects in the Republican Party have a problem with Hagel, which doesn’t interest me all that much at the moment, mainly because that’s all we will hear about until he is confirmed by the Senate.
By the way, just to give you an example of how mainstream journalists will wear us out with hysterical right-wing criticisms of Hagel: After President Obama finished his nomination remarks this afternoon, he and his nominees had barely left the room before MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell was reading a statement—”the one we’ve been waiting for,” she exclaimed!—from, who else, John McCain, who, what else, has “serious concerns” about some of the positions Hagel has taken.
What interests me now is the opposition to his nomination from some on the left.
Some liberals resent choosing yet another Republican—one who was once ranked very high as a conservative by the American Conservative Union and Club for Growth (Hagel got a whopping 99 in 2005)—for the Pentagon job. The pick, they say, keeps “the myth” going that Democrats are national security weaklings, in need of a strong Republican to give them clout.
And some of the good guys resent Hagel’s stupid remarks directed toward an openly gay Clinton nominee for ambassador to Luxemborg in 1998. Those remarks can’t be defended and Hagel ain’t defending them, but Barney Frank has a point that if they were directed at “any other minority group” of Americans, they would be an obstacle to “a major presidential appointment.”
Some on the left also believe that Michèle Flournoy, a real Democrat who worked for Obama at the Pentagon as Under Secretary of Defense Policy for almost three years, deserved the job and would have broken important ground, if she had been nominated. Can’t argue with that.
So, while there are plenty of good reasons for folks on the left to have McCain-like “serious concerns,” there are two very good reasons for us to consider the upside of a Hagel confirmation, one of them with a potentially monumental upside.
The first reason has just been endorsed by Barney Frank himself, as reported by the Boston Globe:
I was hoping the president wouldn’t nominate him,” Frank told the Globe today.
“As much as I regret what Hagel said, and resent what he said, the question now is going to be Afghanistan and scaling back the military,” Frank said. “In terms of the policy stuff, if he would be rejected [by the Senate], it would be a setback for those things.”
“Scaling back the military.” It has now become conventional wisdom that the Pentagon cuts coming down the road will need a pretty strong Republican at the Pentagon to get them done, without right-wingers rhetorically hanging President Obama for treason. I certainly understand that.
But the second reason, which may end up being the most important reason of all for giving Hagel the defense job, was expressed very well by Matthew Duss at The American Prospect:
Hagel was willing to face up to the fact that the Iraq war was a strategic failure, one that significantly empowered America’s enemies and dramatically undercut America’s influence in the region.
Not only is that realistic assessment of the Iraq war important in itself, it has important implications for our future dealings with Iran.
As President Obama said today, Chuck Hagel “understands that war is not an abstraction.” Add to that his demonstrated understanding of the dramatic failure of Bush’s Iraq policy—which had neo-con fathers in Congress and the press—and what we may have in Hagel is exactly the kind of guy Democrats should want sitting at the table when decisions are made about what to do with Iran and its nuclear ambitions.
A reformed Republican may, in this case, be a liberal’s best friend as we seek a prudent shrinking of the defense budget. But, more important, he may be the country’s best friend if he helps keeps us out of yet another war in the Middle East.
[By the way, I recommend all liberals, heck, and all of you conservative lurkers, to go and read this article at Salon.]