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Chuck Hagel to be Obama's Choice to Head Pentagon

by Carl Wicklander, published
(Credit: BBC)

According to Foreign Policy's The Cable blogger Josh Rogin and others, President Obama is expected to name former Nebraska US Senator Chuck Hagel Pentagon chief on Monday:

"White House officials and sources close to Hagel declined to confirm to The Cable that Hagel is the president's choice to replace Leon Panetta at the helm of the Pentagon, but several sources close to the process have told The Cable that the White House and Hagel have been in touch on a regular basis and that Hagel is indeed the expected pick."

The potential Hagel pick is interesting on a couple of levels. Not only would he be another Republican in a Democratic administration and another Republican identified with Democrats on foreign matters, but he would also be the most likely cabinet member with a voice exercising caution in the president's foreign policy.

There has been a lot of resistance so far to Hagel from both Democrats and Republicans. Some Democrats have latched onto some comments Hagel made in the 1990's about openly-homosexual ambassador nominee James Hormel, but one gets the feeling that Democrats don't want to be caught saying too many nice things about a Republican. But by far, most of the resistance has come from within Hagel's own party.

Already, Republican US Senators John Cornyn, John McCain, and Marco Rubio have vowed to fight or place holds on the Hagel nomination. Opposing sanctions and military intervention in Iran, and saying blunt things about the Israel Lobby have not endeared him to his former Republican colleagues. But when he called a spade a spade and the rest of the GOP and conservative movement were doubling down on the Iraq "Surge," Hagel had none of that and it probably cost him his political career.

Although he has generally supported most US-led interventions, from the Balkans to Iraq until about 2005 and probably Libya, Hagel has an independent mind. He is not quite my ideal choice for secretary of defense, but he is the best, most prudent name under consideration. His record on Iraq isn't perfect, but it shows that he is willing to admit mistakes and try to correct them. We need more of that in Washington. Those of us wanting a more restrained foreign policy can hope that Hagel truly learned the lesson of Iraq enough to be a strong voice of dissent on intervention in Iran or Syria.

When I first wrote about Hagel's potential selection a month ago, I figured he would sail through. Democrats wouldn't honestly object to their own president's nominee to anything and Republicans couldn't possibly want to re-fight a bloody partisan battle with one of their own. When it became clear that American intervention had facilitated a civil war, one's continued support for it became a Republican loyalty test and Hagel broke ranks and is now being threatened with ideological and partisan punishment.

Hagel might still receive confirmation. He will if Republican Senators are smart enough to not re-fight the politics of the Iraq war or impose other ideological ink blots. If they give one of their own the Susan Rice treatment, it will only further cement why Republicans shouldn't be trusted with the conduct of foreign policy again.

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