Few presidential nominations have been as widely telegraphed as Barack Obama’s nomination of former Nebraska GOP Sen. Chuck Hagel to be secretary of Defense.
The leisurely process had the advantage for the administration of getting an advance look at the likely opposition, mostly some of Hagel’s erstwhile Republican colleagues, whom, it became clear, have an uphill battle to derail his nomination. Indeed, senior Republicans may decide that it’s not worth the political capital to significantly attack his nomination.
Hagel is a decorated – two Purple Hearts – Vietnam veteran. He would be – and this is an important consideration with a certain strata of public opinion – the first Vietnam veteran and former enlisted man to head the Pentagon.
After leaving the Senate in 2009, Hagel, 66, taught at Georgetown University and headed a centrist think tank, post-Senate career choices that indicate he has been itching to get back into public life. In the Senate and afterward, he was close to Obama and importantly for the Pentagon post he has the trust and confidence of the president.
The potentially most difficult issue for his confirmation is the charge by Republicans and some Democrats that he is insufficiently pro-Israel. He has differed with the Israeli lobby on questions of sanctions but on the major issues he has largely voted in support of Israel.
Further, once in office, the major questions of Israeli policy, especially vis-a-vis Iran, will be the responsibility of the Secretary of State, not Hagel and the Pentagon.
Another rap against Hagel, particularly among Democrats, is intemperate remarks he made about the pending appointment of a gay ambassador. He has apologized and endorses the Pentagon policy of gays serving openly in the military. After 12 years it seems some sort of statute of limitations should apply.
Curiously, in the early reaction to his nomination, both positive and negative, there has been little discussion of the most important issue he will face: Guiding the American military through an era of ever-tighter budgets and the concomitant military downsizing.
Hagel also has this going for him: As a Vietnam vet and an Iraq war skeptic, he will be anything but impulsive about committing U.S. troops to opened-ended military ventures. And that is no bad thing.
Based on what we know so far — and his confirmation hearing is still to be held — he should be confirmed.