“To question your government is not unpatriotic – to not question your government is unpatriotic.” — Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Nebraska)
So Barack Obama is going to continue the rather odd, and possibly insulting, tradition of a Democratic President nominating a Republican to head the Pentagon. I say possibly insulting because, although they claim it’s for “bipartisanship”, it’s just constantly exuding the idea that the GOP are better when it comes to matters of security and defence. To date, the only Democratic President who never had a Republican Defence Secretary was Jimmy Carter. There have been twenty-three Secretaries of Defence since its establishment in 1947; only eight Defence Secretaries have been Democratic.
I understand the need to have an air of bipartisanship about the administration, especially when faced with a divided and very partisan Congress, but why always the Defence portfolio? Why not, I dunno, Interior or something. Not one GOP President has ever given the job of Secretary of Defence to a Democrat. Nixon did appoint a Democrat to Treasury for a year, though. Not sure if that really counts though because the Democrat appointed switched to the Republican party soon after leaving his office. In reality, the GOP have never responded in kind with bipartisan appointments (in the top three jobs anyway), so why continue? It’s a legitimate question and one that’s never really answered properly. So we really are left with the impression that the only reason Democratic Presidents appoint Republicans to be SecDef is because they are Republicans and, by an extension, better at national defence issues. It’s ridiculous because, not only has it never been proven true, but it’s a consistent own goal for the Democrats. It’s saying Democrats are weak on security and defence and how is that going to play to the voters, especially in an era where the US can be attacked at any moment.
Anyway as I said Obama is indeed intending to nominate a Republican, former Senator from Nebraska Chuck Hagel, to be the next United States Secretary of Defence (or Defense as those pesky Americans spell it). His political party membership aside, it’s a very interesting choice. Hagel is a highly decorated Vietnam veteran and an outspoken critic of the Iraq War despite having originally voted in favour of the war effort. He also voted for the war in Afghanistan but later noted that withdrawal was necessary and that, like Vietnam, one could not “win” the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He’s previously served on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is highly bipartisan in nature, and isn’t beholden to the Jewish lobby which could mean good news for pro-Palestinians though I doubt it. Just because he isn’t beholden to the lobby doesn’t mean he’s not pro-Israel, which he is.
That being said, his less than extreme love for Israel will definitely pose a problem for him in the Senate. Especially when it’s combined with his tendency to be bipartisan. Republicans apparently don’t like him anymore with various GOP Senators criticising the choice (which has yet to be officially made actually). So this brings me back to my earlier points; this choice obviously isn’t anything to do with bipartisanship since the GOP don’t like him, so to claim otherwise is just silly. I’m confident there are Democrats out there with just as good a resumé, so why Hagel? It must be because he’s a Republican, right?
If I were American I’d be a moderate Democrat so I’m going to try and defend the party’s image here. I honestly don’t think he’s being appointed because he is a Republican, but because he is someone who is qualified for the job who happens to be Republican. If you need proof, just look at who was being touted for Defence Secretary before Christmas – Senator John Kerry. Kerry is a Democrat and the only reason he’s not going to be SecDef is because he’s going to State. Further, Obama evidently has no qualms with appointing a Democrat to the Pentagon as his last appointment, and current incumbent, is a Democrat. In fact I’m going to hazard a guess here and say the only reason that some GOP Senators are opposed to him is because he’s probably closer to the Democratic Party than today’s Republican Party. In fact in the last Senate election in Nebraska, he supported the Democratic challenger over the Republican one!
So, supports Democratic Senate candidates, isn’t crazy about the Israel lobby, major pain in the ass for Bush over the Iraq War … Yeah, I can see why the current Senate Republicans wouldn’t be crazy about him. It’s going to be a tough fight for him to get confirmed by the Senate – more proof that Obama isn’t just putting a Republican in Defence for the sake of being Republican; if he really wanted to do so, I can think of a many Republicans just as qualified who’d have an easy time in the process, Senator John McCain for one. Hagel is being nominated because Hagel has extensive foreign policy experience and is a highly accomplished soldier and veteran of one of the toughest wars in the US history. Sure, he mightn’t have any extensive organisation management experience like Panetta did as Director of the CIA, but he is currently c0-Chairman of the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board which deals with the actions of foreign intelligence agencies. In other words, he advises the President on foreign spies and their activities. Combine that with his Senate career on the Foreign Relations Committee, and his post-Senate career involved in various foreign policy analyst posts, I think he’s more than qualified to take over the Defence brief, regardless of what GOP Senators may say.
Some Democrats have also criticised Hagel though. Many over his apparent anti-gay stance, others because he’s a Republican. I think by now I’ve quashed the “oh, stop appointing a Republican” argument, so let’s take a look at the anti-gay allegations. Well yes, he did oppose the appointment of an Ambassador in the 90s because he was gay. And yes, he did support Don’t Ask Don’t Tell while in the Senate. He’s since apologised for the opposition, and has been said to be in favour of ending DADT, but even if this was not the case, I don’t see these as valid reasons to oppose the man. He could literally do no harm to the LGBT cause while in Defence because his boss, the President, is so pro-LGBT he became the first sitting President re-elected to office after stating he supported marriage equality. This same President also saw the overturning to DADT. Something tells me that even if Hagel was a bigot, which is questionable, anything he tried to do to stop gays in the military would be stopped by Obama. Let’s not oppose a man based on something he has no chance of doing, even if he believed in doing it.
Hagel would make a good Secretary of Defence, and not because he’s a Republican. He’s qualified, experienced, and his views on military action abroad are broadly in line with Obama’s. I’m confident these are the credentials Obama is looking at when choosing his Defence Secretary, not political affiliation. Whatever may have been the case in the past it’s definitely not the case now.