Saturday, January 5, 2013

Chuck Hagel's Biggest Obstacle to Secretary of Defense Job: Himself

    President Obama, despite growing opposition, is likely to nominate former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel for secretary of defense as early as Monday, CBS News reports.  This move will stand in contrast to the withdrawal of Susan Rice's name for consideration as secretary of state when her possible nomination came under fire for her inaccurate statements about the attacks in Benghazi, Libya on a number of Sunday talk shows.  But Chuck Hagel's time in the Senate will provide questioners at his nomination hearing plenty of fodder, and not just one bad weekend on TV.

    Hagel's oppostion to the Iraq War is no secret.  After initially voting for the Iraq resolution in 2002, Hagel soon became a vocal and vociferous critic of the war, President Bush, and Bush's military and administration officials responsible for prosecuting it.  Extreme left-wing filmmaker Michael Moore, writing at the Huffington Post on Saturday, even credits Hagel with being one of the few who told the truth about the Iraq War with his comment: "People say we're not fighting for oil. Of course we are."  Perhaps one of Hagel's most outrageous statements regarding the war, and in retrospect the least prescient, was one he made to Condoleezza Rice on the heels of President Bush's announcement of the "surge" in Iraq which was calculated to reverse the deteriorating situation in that country:

So, Madam Secretary, when you set in motion the kind of policy that the president is talking about here, it's very, very dangerous. As a matter of fact, I have to say, Madam Secretary, that I think this speech given last night by this president represents the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam, if it's carried out. I will resist it. (transcript via PBS)
    As it turned out, the surge was widely credited with doing exactly what the Bush administration planned, and arguably set the stage for President Obama to largely end America's involvement in Iraq on a relatively positive note.  Hagel's credibility as secretary to "wind down" (to use the president's term) the war in Afghanistan might well be called into question with his spectacular miscall on the surge in Iraq.

    Hagel's surge comments are not the only awkward moments likely to surface at Hagel's confirmation hearing.  On September 11, 2007, Andrew Sullivan, writing at the Atlantic, chose to highlight a pair of senators' comments at hearings held about the Iraq war and the Bush administration's strategy.  The two senators?  Chuck Hagel and Barack Obama.  And one of the witnesses at whom these two senators directed their indignation?  President Obama's first choice for secretary of defense and the military leader responsible for the surge in Iraq, General David Petraeus.

    Chuck Hagel's chances of becoming the next secretary of defense may well rest on his ability to mount a credible defense of his own past public statements.

Update: Suggested opening question for Hagel's confirmation hearing: "Senator Hagel: In 2007, you called the Iraq surge, quote, the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam, unquote.  Given that President Obama's first choice to be the next secretary of defense was reported to be General Petraeus, the man who successfully carried out the surge, one: do you stand behind your 2007 statement, and two: would you be open to consulting with General Petraeus on the winding down of the war in Afghanistan if you are confirmed?"

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