This morning, the Senate Armed Services Committee will take up the nomination of Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense, replacing the retiring Leon Panetta. Panetta got the job after his surprisingly effective tenure running the CIA, taking his political connections and extensive experience in executive leadership in bureaucracies into one of the largest such bureaucracies in the world — and succeeded over expectations at the Pentagon, too. Politico’s Stephanie Gaskell peruses Hagel’s resumé to find any analogous experience or accomplishments, and finds …. “not much”:
There’s not much on Chuck Hagel’s résumé that screams secretary of defense.
He’s not a former White House chief of staff, like Dick Cheney or Donald Rumsfeld. He never ran the CIA, like Leon Panetta or Robert Gates. He never worked inside the Pentagon.
There’s one main job on his résumé — politician — and for Hagel, that’s the problem. …
Defense experts say Hagel, if confirmed, will face major challenges in wrangling a sprawling institution and working with partners to implement President Barack Obama’s policies. That would be the case for anyone taking the top civilian defense post, but Hagel would walk in without the bureaucratic expertise of his predecessors.
“America is at a delicate moment of transition in defense policy and spending,” said Pete Hegseth, CEO of Concerned Veterans for America. “Sen. Hagel has not proposed serious alternatives during these, or other, defense policy fights; nor has he made any significant contribution — either in office or out — to the even more fundamental questions about the future of U.S. defense posture, the shape and function of the defense establishment, or chronic and complicated spending problems at the Pentagon.”
Hegseth says that Hagel’s status as a veteran and experience in working with veterans’ groups would make Hagel a good choice for Secretary of Veteran Affairs, but not to run the Pentagon. Nor, for that matter, does his two terms in the Senate. When Hagel belonged to the club, he wasn’t exactly its most clubby member. Hagel wasn’t known for his ability to network and build coalitions; he was more known for his predilection for going his own way. That quality has its uses in politics, but not in bureaucracies, and certainly not at the top of one. Successful executives build teams and reach out for broad support for initiatives.
Politically, there’s even less to commend Hagel for approval. Jen Rubin has been tirelessly writing about Hagel’s shortcomings on policy, and yesterday offered a 2009 Hagel speech as “the best argument” against his confirmation:
Defense secretary nominee Chuck Hagel’s 2009 speech to J Street confirms that he’s long held views that are out of the mainstream, contrary to the president’s policies and entirely at odds with his new views adopted for his confirmation hearing.
Much of the speech, granted, is empty blather, the type that no one in elite foreign policy circles is likely to mock. But it is comical nevertheless (“Citizens of the world live within the sovereignty of man-made borders – but also within the realities of a global community. Either we understand this and accept these realities of a world of different religions and cultures, and attempt to accommodate these differences, or we will live in a world of perpetual violence and hatred.”) These comment are vapid (“That is also the stark question that presents itself to mankind – will we be wise enough and courageous enough to find man-made solutions to man-made injustice and problems?”) and assume that the audience is as well. (My personal favorite in the gibberish department: “Our character, our humanity and our wisdom must now find their way to a joining of global realities at another great confluence of historic proportions.”)
Unfortunately a great deal in the speech is laughably wrong and not so laughably dangerous. I’ll go through the speech, highlighting the most egregious passages.
Most of the highlights have to do with foreign policy, on which Hagel continued to show that he’s mostly on his own. As Secretary of Defense, though, Hagel won’t have too much impact on foreign policy, although Barack Obama’s nomination of Hagel certainly calls into question how Obama will proceed on those points. However, the issue with Iran directly involves Defense at least to the extent that we project a credible enough threat to the mullahs to force them to bargain on nuclear weapons. Here, Jen is spot on, as correct as Hagel was incorrect on Syria:
Next up is Iran. “Sanctions … even multilateral sanctions … the only sanctions that have any effect … have a limited value and are limited in their effectiveness. Multilateral sanctions are tools and influences that nations can use, but only in coordination with other instruments of power.” So he is opposed (as of 2009) to all unilateral sanctions and not thrilled about multilateral ones, in essence the basis of the past four years of President Obama’s Iran policy. He also argues (again) that we can’t get Arab support against Iran unless there is a resolution of the Palestinian problem. “Arab states find themselves in a difficult bind when it comes to Iran. Anti-American and anti-Israeli agitation in the Middle East … spontaneous, contrived or organized … means they keep their counsel close. They worry about a hegemonic, potentially nuclear-armed Iran, as well as what might be the reaction to a military strike on Iran by Israel, supported by or perceived to be supported by the U.S. Tangible and substantive steps toward Arab-Israeli peace would give more flexibility and credibility to U.S. diplomats as they attempt to shape the regional political and diplomatic environment.” We know from, among other things WikiLeaks documents, that this is false and that Arab nations were pleading with us to act robustly against Iran.
His remarks on Syria show how atrociously wrong was his assessment: “I believe there is a real possibility of a shift in Syria’s strategic thinking and policies. For its own self interests … not because they want to do a favor for the U.S. or Israel. If we can convince Damascus to pause and reconsider its positions and support regarding Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas and radical Palestinian groups, we will have made progress for the entire Middle East . . . .The next bilateral peace treaty for Israel is with Syria.” Thunk.
As late as 2009, Hagel opposed sanctions, and opposed a military option on Iran. Obama’s selection of Hagel sends a deeply and dangerously unserious message to Tehran. Hagel’s views on Israel are a sideshow; Iran should be the focus of today’s hearing.
I doubt that Hagel will have much trouble getting confirmed today. Chuck Schumer’s support for Hagel on a floor vote probably cinched the confirmation, and unless Hagel foams at the mouth or eats an American flag in the middle of the hearing, there is zero chance that the committee won’t recommend confirmation to the full Senate. That doesn’t mean that Hagel should be allowed to avoid the question of Iran and his past positions that put him well to the left of the administration he’ll soon be joining.