Monday, January 07, 2013

Chuck Hagel's nomination as Defense Secretary

Obama has nominated former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel as his nominee for the next Secretary of Defense.

The Israel lobby has conducted a vocal opposition to the nomination.

The PBS Newshour reported on the debate over Hagel in Firestorm of Criticism for Cabinet Nominee Chuck Hagel 01/04/2013:

Fred Kaplan sums up the arguments of Hagel's opponents in The Real Reason Republicans Hate Hagel Slate 01/06/2013: "These resisters have four main concerns. They fear that Hagel will cut the military budget. They fear that he’ll roll over if Iran builds a nuclear weapon. They fear that he’s too reluctant to use military force generally. And they fear he doesn’t much like Israel; the extremists on this point claim he’s anti-Semitic."

Glenn Greenwald looks at the politics of the Hagel nomination in Chuck Hagel and liberals: what are the priorities? Guardian 01/05/2013. He argues in favor of Hagel's nomination, pointing out, "All of the Democratic alternatives to Hagel who have been seriously mentioned are nothing more than standard foreign policy technocrats, fully on-board with the DC consensus regarding war, militarism, Israel, Iran, and the Middle East." Though he observes that Hagel's views are solidly within the current national security state consensus, "at the very least, Hagel's confirmation will be a much-needed declaration that some mild dissent on foreign policy orthodoxies and Israel is permitted."

I have a lot of sympathy for the argument that its bad practice and bad precedent for Obama to nominate another Republican as Secretary of Defense.

But Obama is very committed to promoting his image of bipartisanship, and I suspect that's a major appeal for him in a Hagel nomination. But it's unlikely to be widely perceived that way, as Kaplan observes: "What Republicans seem to fear most is that by appointing Hagel as secretary of defense, Obama can claim a false bipartisanship in his national-security team. In fact, these critics say Hagel does not reflect the values or positions of the Republican Party; his presence in Cabinet meetings would not constitute real bipartisanship." Still, it does reinforce the notion that is no dead among the punditocracy that Democrats can't be fully trusted on national security.

As Jacob Heilbrunn explains in Hagel Unchained Foreign Policy 12/14/2012, he was quite a conservative Republican in his Senate career. His difference was adhering to a Realist view of foreign policy rather than a neoconservative/militarist-nationalist outlook: "So for much of the past decade, Hagel -- despite a lifetime rating of 84 percent from the American Conservative Union -- has been a prickly presence on the right, a traditional realist as opposed to the crusading neocons who have, by and large, co-opted much of the GOP's foreign-policy brain trust."

I would have much preferred to see Obama nominate a Democratic "realist" to that position. But if he nominates Hagel, I would rather see him confirmed than rejected. Because, as Kaplan writes, "On the issue of military force, Hagel is more dovish than many Republicans and perhaps some Democrats."

Stephen Walt is skeptical of the extent to which Hagel's presence at Defense will make any kind of decisive difference on policy toward Israel and Iran. In What's at stake in the Hagel affair Foreign Policy 12/26/2012, he writes:

Contrary to what some suggest, the choice of SecDef isn't going to make any difference in U.S. policy toward Israel or the "peace process." Policy on those issues will be set by the White House and Congress, with AIPAC et al. breathing down both their necks. The Israeli government has no interest in a two-state solution, the Palestinians are too weak and divided to persuade Israel to rethink its present course, and the United States is incapable of mounting the sort of sustained pressure that might force both sides to compromise. Which means the two-state solution is dead, and it won't matter whether Hagel gets the nod or not. The $3-4 billion annual aid package won't be affected, and I'll bet the United States continues to wield its U.N. Security Council veto whenever it is asked.

This appointment could affect U.S. policy toward Iran, insofar as Hagel's been skeptical about the wisdom of using military force in the past. He's hardly a dove or an appeaser, of course; he just recognizes that military force may not be a very good way to deal with this problem. (Well, duh.) If Obama wants to pursue diplomacy instead of preventive war -- and he should -- the combination of Hagel at Defense and Kerry at State would give him two respected, articulate, and persuasive voices to help him make that case. But if Obama were to decide that force was a good idea, neither Kerry nor Hagel would stand in his way. So in terms of overall Middle East policy in the next couple of years, this appointment may matter less than most people think.
Taylor Marsh makes the same point more colloquially, "The pissing contest over Mr. Hagel is just the latest extension of a Washington class of elite imbeciles who think a person of contrary opinion at the Pentagon will cause world pandemonium." (News Desk: Hagel Nomination as Secretary of Defense “Locked Down” 01/07/2013)

But Walt thinks Hagel is a solid nominee, as he wrote in an earlier piece, Top five reasons Obama should pick Chuck Hagel for SecDef Foreign Policy 12/14/2012.


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