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Rob Horowitz: Chuck Hagel is an Excellent Choice for Secretary of Defense

Wednesday, January 09, 2013


President Obama’s decision to nominate former Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE) to be our next Secretary of Defense is a wise one. In selecting Hagel, a foreign policy realist, Obama is rightly disregarding the loud objections of neoconservatives who despite the Iraq debacle, are still cheerleading for an aggressive, interventionist and go it alone vision of the use of American military power.

A decorated Vietnam Veteran, Hagel views the world as it is—not how we would like it to be—and understands the limits of American military power and the high cost of war. But he sure isn’t some kind of left wing peacenick as the neoconservatives would have you believe. Hagel falls well within the honorable tradition of tough foreign policy realism and has received the strong backing of Brent Scowcroft, National Security Advisor for President Bush(41), and Senator Jack Reed (D-RI), among others. The charge made by Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) on the Sunday shows that he is outside the foreign policy mainstream doesn’t pass the laugh test.

Hagel’s independence and pragmatism are well-suited to continuing the work of outgoing Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta in adapting the military to the new budget realities created by the imperative to reduce our $16 trillion national debt and ensuring we are still well prepared for the threats of the twenty-first century. On key foreign policy questions, he will offer his own strong and well-reasoned views, not simply parrot the Washington conventional wisdom or the opinions of his Generals. Of course, President Obama, who brings a hands-on approach to foreign policy, will still make the final decisions—but Hagel’s strong voice will help make sure that all the options are carefully considered.

While there is some opposition and his detractors have surfaced a few choice ill-advised statements made by Hagel during his 13 year Senate career, he is still likely to be confirmed. Given that Republicans are just beginning an effort to make their party less doctrinaire and more welcoming, it would certainly be inadvisable for Senate Republicans to reject one of their former colleagues simply because he refuses to walk the neoconservative line. Given Hagel’s strong backing by the White House, the opposition of some strong proponents of Israel, such as the American Jewish Committee, who oppose Hagel because he has been skeptical of the efficacy of sanctions on Iran, will not be enough to sway more than a few Democratic Senators.

And Hagel has already done effective damage control on his past embarrassing statements.. He apologized for his one comment several years ago calling the pro-Israel lobby the ‘Jewish lobby. This apology is further buttressed by the fact that Hagel’s Senate voting record is pro-Israel. Similarly, he apologized for ill-advised comments he made when he opposed an openly gay nominee for an Ambassadorship more than ten years ago during the Clinton Administration. He now supports gays and lesbians serving openly in the military.

At the end of the day, any nominee who has been in politics a while is likely to have some negative marks on their record and Chuck Hagel is certainly no exception. In nominating Hagel-- despite the fact that his choice is somewhat controversial--President Obama has demonstrated political courage and picked the right person for the job.

Rob Horowitz is a strategic and communications consultant who provides general consulting, public relations, direct mail services and polling for national and state issue organizations, various non-profits and elected officials and candidates. He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of Rhode Island.


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