Former GOP Senator Chuck Hagel, President Obama’s choice for Secretary of Defense, is an odd puzzle piece. He doesn’t fit in here nor there. Republicans see him as a wishy-washy party member with questionable allegiances and Democrats aren’t comfortable with his views on social issues. One thing’s certain though: he’s a bad pick for the post.
It feels like Obama picked Hagel to poke a rod at Republicans. A Republican running an Obama Pentagon? What’s more: the same Republican who endorsed Bob Kerry and mused about being Obama’s VP pick in 2008?
Hagel bravely served in Vietnam, being awarded not one, but two Purple Hearts. He’s held an important position in Washington before. But, despite his aformentioned qualifications, his nomination should reveal that he’s soft on Iran and his views toward Israel are tepid and sometimes odd.
Compared to this administration’s views on and dealings with Iran, Hagel’s are a nightmare. He voted against labeling Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps as a terrorist organization because the amendment wasn’t diplomatic enough for his taste. Hagel’s preference was for President Bush to open “direct, unconditional, and comprehensive talks with the Government of Iran.”
He said in the letter to President Bush: “An approach such as this would strengthen our ability across the board to deal with Iran. Our friends and allies would be more confident to stand with us if we seek to increase pressure, including tougher sanctions on Iran.” The sanctions on Iran he speaks of are the ones he also regularly opposes. All this is fine and dandy, except I’m not sure how Obama thinks Hagel will fit in with his goal to stop Iran from going nuclear. Potent diplomacy is only a useful tool when a goal merits it. Heaven knows it’s not needed here.
Any U.S. military action towards Iran wouldn’t be starting a war. They’re already at war with us and our allies. Iran has a storied history of attacking innocent Americans, taking hostages, participating in the deadly attacks on our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a fueling hatred for Israel. With a group of monsters and Iran-sponsored Hezbollah, do we need Chuck Hagel offering Kumbaya sessions to reward terrorism?
Of course not. It would be like assigning the parent of a spoiled brat to lead a new parents class in discipline.
Hagel’s other political confessions don’t add to his credibility either. A big concern of his is the amorphous “Jewish Lobby” that — apparently — “intimidates a lot of people up here.” Commentators have long wondered of what exactly this lobby consists. I assume it’s only Jews. Intimidating Jews. Maybe like Big Pharma, but they carry clubs and celebrate Hanukkah.
Supporters of Israel may irk Hagel because he’s antithetical to their cause. Not to say he’s against the state, but he’s all too eager to sit down and dine with those who want to drive them into the sea. When asked about his views on our Middle East ally he said: “I’m a United States Senator. I support Israel. But my first interest is I take an oath of office to the Constitution of the United States. … If I go run for Senate in Israel, I’ll do that.”
Altogether true. Altogether snobbish.
Taking his word on his support for Israel forces us to reconcile his actions on the subject. In 2001 Hagel and only ten other senators “refused to sign a letter urging President Bush not to meet with the late Yassir Arafat until his forces ended the violence against Israel.” He kept his name off a letter signed by eighty-eight senators asking the EU to label Hezbollah as a terrorist organization — he must have been waiting until they did something really bad.
While Israel watched its citizens fall prey to terrorist attacks, Hagel opined: because the “Israeli military occupation and settlement activity continue[s]” they too “must take steps to show its commitment to peace.”
Hagel’s limpness reminds me of what Benjamin Netanyahu said: “If the Arabs put down their weapons today, there would be no more violence. If the Jews put down their weapons today, there would be no more Israel.”
What should our leaders value in a Secretary of Defense? Bipartisanship? Peace-seeking diplomacy? Perhaps. But in Hagel’s case these are excuses to give a man tied to the apron strings of bad foreign policy real power.
Keith Fierro | Cal State Fullerton | @KJFierro