A test for Chuck Hagel, another test for the GOP

It’s a very good thing indeed that Defense Secretary nominee Chuck Hagel will receive a thorough review by the US Senate.

That is, as they say, their job.

But the salvos being fired so far say as much about the state of the conservative movement as they do about the former Senator from Nebraska.

By now you’ve probably heard that Hagel was an Army sergeant in Vietnam.

He was honored with two Purple Hearts, among other front-line combat distinctions.  He later served as a top official with the Veterans Administration.

While in the Senate, he served on the Committee on Foreign Relations and the Select Committee on Intelligence.

As a Republican, you’d think a resume like that — particularly for a red-state lawmaker like Hagel — would be iron-clad, at least among fellow Republicans.

Not so.  Hagel has tripped the wire of conservative orthodoxy several times, questioning Israeli policy toward the Palestinians, arguing in favor of (fairly modest) budget cuts for the Pentagon, and urging a more rapid US withdrawal from Iraq.

All of these positions were, arguably, misguided.  Fair-minded people can differ on these policy decisions and it’s a healthy thing that there is currently a wide range of opinions about them within the GOP.

The Ron Paul faction, notably, drew strong support from libertarian-minded voters last year for advocating what might be called an isolationist approach.

Meanwhile, the Bill Kristol-Charles Krauthammer wing of the party continues to advocate for an aggressively interventionist approach in countries such as Iran and North Korea.

Hagel appears to fall somewhere in the middle.

And it’s worth noting that a lot of Republicans evolved in much the same way that Hagel did — first supporting the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, before adopting a more remorseful tone about those conflicts.

But his straying from the path has produced exactly the kind of Republican-on-Republican ugliness that has contributed in recent years to the unraveling of the conservative movement.

The fact that Hagel has occasionally endorsed Democrats, and praised the concept of bipartisanship, only deepened suspicion of him on the right.

One irony, of course, is that many of the same conservatives who are attacking Hagel for suggesting modest budget cuts for the Pentagon are the same leaders who are insisting that the Federal budget needs wholesale whacking.

Another painful challenge for the GOP is that many of their military-policy “moderates”  — including war heroes like Hagel — appear to be drifting toward the Democratic Party.

General Colin Powell, a chief architect of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, endorsed Barack Obama twice; and the administration’s Army Secretary is former North Country Republican John McHugh.

While many hard-line conservatives see negotiating with Mr. Obama as a sign of weakness, many defense moderates have found a comfortable place within this administration.

Which is tough for the GOP to swallow.

It’s one thing for Republicans to “lose” domestic policy moderates like New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Florida Governor Charlie Crist, both former GOP stand-outs who quit the party after clashes with conservatives.

If conservatives also find it necessary to purge defense centrists like Hagel, their ranks could be very thin indeed.

Again, it’s possible that opponents of this nomination will find legitimate and damning arguments that will disqualify the former soldier, businessman, and lawmaker.

But if this is merely another chapter of the Republican civil war, playing out on the field of national defense policy, I suspect that Chuck Hagel may fare far better in the coming weeks than his ideological opponents.




61 Comments on “A test for Chuck Hagel, another test for the GOP”

  1. Pete Klein says:

    I see nothing wrong with Hagel but I do see a lot wrong with any elected official who acts and votes more like an Israeli than an American.

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  2. If Clapton is God, Warren Haynes is Jesus says:

    Go Chuck! I totally support his nomination and feel he’s exactly the kind of experienced, thoughtful, and fearless Secretary of Defense we need right now. Someone not afraid to rock the boat and question the all too cozy relationship the Pentagon has with certain allies, defense contractors, etc. that have made the Pentagon such a nest of special interests. It’s long over due that there be a serious “house cleaning” at the Pentagon and not just in terms of funding.

    Also, a Chuck Hagel nomination, as Brian so aptly put it, represents a threat to the Neocons in the Republican party. He will guarantee a sane voice at the table whenever potential military conflicts arise. For too long the Neocons have shouted over everyone else in a sense and have always touted the power of the military vis a vis foreign policy. Chuck Hagel represents a threat to that all too tired discussion.

    Finally, anyone who dares question the influence of organizations like AIPAC on our foreign policy and military is a hero in my book. The mere fact that such organizations are funding a full on press in the media against his nomination should indicate just how much they fear him. Such a campaign in and of itself should make everyone question just who’s running the show in Congress.

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  3. The assertion that an American cabinet member should show more loyalty to a foreign government than to the United States of America is not only absurd and a violation of the oath of office, but downright treasonous.

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  4. Newt says:

    Brian did not mention that there are also rumblings of discontent from northeastern liberal Democrat wing, fearful that Hagel’s nomination will cost them with the overlords of American Middle East foreign policy in AIPAC (AKA, the Israel Lobby). In fact, many Jews, and Jewish groups also support Hagel
    (J Street.org).
    Obama deserves much credit for having the chutzpah to stand up to the Israel lobby. Nice to see bipartisanship, at last. Too bad it is support of subservience to a foreign power.

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  5. Mervel says:

    Hagel is good, this may be more of a defining moment for the Party than they realize, sometimes these nomination processes bring out the best and the worst.

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  6. tootightmike says:

    This northeastern, liberal democrat is very interested in a Hagel nomination. Our overzealous support of Israel has created a bully state, and prevented real meaningful discussion for too long. This coupled with letting Hillary Clinton go on to other things might actually turn down the heat in the entire region, and allow regular people to resume regular lives.

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  7. Ken Hall says:

    Hopefully Hagel will be confirmed thereby putting him in a position to do something about the dearth of housing in the Watertown area, by reducing the number of troops stationed at Drum.

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  8. mervel says:

    Come on now Ken we just one a 90 million dollar grant to help the north country by building more base housing.

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  9. tootightmike says:

    Are you two being sarcastic? Our own Bill Owens said something just last week about not wanting to see any cuts to military expenditures because of the impact it would have on his district. If everybody feels this way then we’re screwed.

    Like/Dislike this comment: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  10. JDM says:

    Just a general comment about GOP figures drifting to the center, a la Colin Powell.

    That’s no-man’s land, politically. It’s great for appointments, but not for elections.

    Tell me again the last great moderate who won an election? How’d that work out for Scott Brown? Mitt? Schwarzenegger? Scozzafava? McCain?

    It’s no-man’s land for elections.

    Great for appointments.

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  11. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    JDM, Obama.

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  12. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Funny how we have devolved into trench warfare terms, no-man’s land.

    Let’s not forget Owens. From the PS today a story about Owens trying to gather a group of moderates to push legislation.

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  13. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Back to the topic, it is apparently all about Bush, well Bush and the Neocons:


    Funny how the Neocons who were pretty much all draft dodgers took over the role of warmongers and guys like Hagel, or Kerry who actually served and fought were and are dismissed by the Right.

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  14. mervel says:

    tootight, everyone feels that way about every broad government program, but defense in particular as it is a very big jobs program, so yes we are screwed if you expect these guys to ever cut anything large.

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  15. mervel says:

    All of these things, prisons, defense, the “war on drugs”, the “war on terror” social security, medicare, medicaid, they all have large constituents, we are those constituents. Take medicare, my family is doing ok, not that wealthy but I don’t worry about my parents, unless they changed medicare then we would be in deep trouble as we could not pay for their medical care without it, so I would fight against changes and reductions to medicare and I am not even a big “progressive”.

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  16. JDM says:

    khl: that’s funny. I’d hate to see your idea of a liberal.

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  17. Rancid Crabtree says:

    This is a non-story IMO, pretty boring stuff. I’m much more interested in the major blunder in Social Securitys future the gov’t has been making or the trillion dollars in new taxes the Democrats are looking for. Those are lot more important than the bumbling GOP moaning about who Obama appoints.



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  18. Paul says:

    He seems like a pretty good pick. I also see some character flaws. But if the liberal parts of the democratic party are okay with them then he probably should get the job.

    Does anyone know what a “too aggressively gay person is”?

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  19. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    JDM: Dennis Kucinich, Noam Chomsky, Ralph Nader. Get with reality, Obama is a moderate. If he was a liberal he wouldn’t be killing US citizens with drone strikes and he wouldn’t be locking up undocumented migrants at a higher rate than Bush did.

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  20. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    “Does anyone know what a “too aggressively gay person is”?”

    That comment (of Hagel’s) shows how far we have come as a nation in the last 14 years. It really does get better.

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  21. Rancid Crabtree says:

    HAR! If he was a true liberal he’d be using the drones on his moderate rivals! He’s not “a” liberal, that’s true. He’s a narcissist/technocrat/shape shifter.

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  22. dave says:

    You have to be one seriously radical far right winger to think that Obama is even within shouting distance of true liberalism. Well, either that, or you have to be clueless about political ideologies.

    Obama is a moderate by almost every definition, and it really says something about how the country has shifted to the right that he gets labelled a liberal or a “socialist”

    20 years ago his policies would have been considered solidly republican.

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  23. Will Doolittle says:

    I think there’s a constant need to prove themselves among those use-of-force advocates like Cheney and Wolfowitz, who have pushed military aggression but never served themselves, and in Cheney’s case, ducked service. It’s a syndrome you see in a lot of pursuits — the people who actually do the thing, like Hagel and Kerry, whether it’s serve in combat or work as a police officer or even a journalist — have a more nuanced perspective on the work, and a more realistic view of it, than those with a great interest in it who have never done it.

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  24. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Bernie Sanders! let’s not forget Bernie.

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  25. Pete Klein says:

    A too aggressively gay person is a male who is a wimp and you do not need to be actually gay to be a too aggressively gay person.
    Most gay men are not too aggressively gay but a fair number of straight men are too aggressively gay in their behavior.

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  26. Ken Hall says:

    TootightMike, “Are you two being sarcastic?”

    Not me. I want to to see Drum draw down to about Division strength, with comparable strength reductions throughout DoD, so I can listen to the howls of indignation from Watertown, and elsewhere, by the self same whom yearn for that smaller government that their conservative guru Grover Norquist wants to drown in a bathtub.

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  27. Marcus says:

    I don’t think it matters who Obama nominates for anything, the republicans will oppose it. Since they couldn’t fullfill their mission to make him a one term president they will obstruct, block , oppose anything he puts forward.

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  28. Newt says:

    At least the 10th Mtn. /Ft. Drumhas been used (I refuse to argue how appropriately) in the past 10 years. How many other DOD units and installations can make that statement?

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  29. Paul says:

    “If he was a liberal he wouldn’t be killing US citizens with drone strikes and he wouldn’t be locking up undocumented migrants at a higher rate than Bush did.”

    Maybe the definitions are screwed up?

    Perhaps he is doing these things because he has to? Bloggers can talk as liberal as they like, Obama knows that if there is another large terrorist strike in the US the country swings way far right and never looks back.

    Hagel voted for the Iraq war. He makes the same cop-out as Hillary saying that he didn’t know what he was voting for. Do they actually think that we are that stupid?

    KHL, why do you support such a “conservative” guy? Is it take the good with the bad? Seems pretty bad by your comments?

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  30. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Paul, I take what I can get, and I realize that I am not going to agree with everything any single person believes.
    Obama may not be my perfect choice for president but he has done many many good things and if he is compared with other recent presidents.

    I have a number of friends who are of the mind that both major parties are basically the same thing; tools of the wealthy and powerful. While I think there is some truth to that I also see a vast difference in what happens on the ground, day to day in the Obama administration vs the Bush administration. For one thing we are not, at the moment, rushing headlong into picking a fight with either Syria or Iran. Thanks Obama!

    But I am not going to sit back and say”phew! we didn’t get Romney, now I can ignore things for 4 years.” Obama needs to be pushed to the left on many issues. I believe I have a much better chance of moving Obama on an issue than I ever had in moving Bush on an issue.

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  31. Two Cents says:

    Re: no man’s land, zone of un-electibility:

    maybe the man doesn’t want to go any further, maybe he’s happy with the job he would have on hand, and does not have a desire to move on up that would interfere with actually doing the job at hand ?
    maybe he’s even a better man for that as well..

    sometimes a job is a job, not a ladder.

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  32. Will Doolittle says:

    Pete: Seriously?
    People are strong in some situations, wimpy in others and that goes for male and female, and those of all sexual orientations. Some people have acted courageously, others cravenly, and that has nothing to do with their sex or their sexuality.

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  33. Paul says:

    KLH, I hear you.

    But if that is a measure it seems like there wasn’t a more “movable” candidate than Romney!!!!!

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  34. Walker says:

    “Obama knows that if there is another large terrorist strike in the US the country swings way far right and never looks back.”

    Good point, Paul. Still, I think those drone strikes are fabulous recruiting tools for the terrorists, which could lead to that next big terrorist attack in the US. I guess one could argue that those who would be recruited by drone strikes already have plenty of reasons to be anti-American. Hard to say how it works on balance. We must just look so much like the Empire in Star Wars to people living in the mid-east!

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  35. Paul says:

    I think that KLH probably has it right. You look back not too far and you will find a lot of mean stuff. Like Chuck Hagel I went to a Catholic School as a kid. He might have learned a few bad thing there on the playground. Hopefully we have moved beyond that sort of stuff.

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  36. Paul says:

    Walker, you could be right. But maybe boots on the ground breeds even more resentment? Don’t know. Maybe it is also some influence from Joe Biden. He has been a big supporter of the covert style approach. Cheney maybe isn’t the only VP to have influence in the White house.

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  37. Rancid Crabtree says:

    the people who actually do the thing, like Hagel and Kerry, whether it’s serve in combat or work as a police officer or even a journalist — have a more nuanced perspective on the work- Doolittle

    Really? So the jourrnalists that stand there and watch people get killed have a more nuanced perspective? The journalists that stand there and do a story on starving kids and then leave for their posh hotels and first class airfare back home can appreciate it more? The journalists that make pop culture anti-heros out of the columbine shooters, or dark night shooter or sandy hook shooter have a more nuanced approach? To what? Avoiding their responsibility?

    I dont mean to get off the track but journalists are right up there with lawyers, politicians and used car salesmen in my opinion. I just screamed out loud reading that stuff and had to say something.

    Mrs R

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  38. Mervel says:

    Obama’s use of all of the tools of the Bush anti-terror doctrine, from rendition, to gitmo, to monitoring of US citizens, to torture, to drone strikes and the Patriot Act itself have ALL been expanded not dropped.

    He certainly agrees with the Bush strategy on those issues.

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  39. Mervel says:

    Where are the protests?

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  40. Peter Hahn says:

    This is a weird one. The republicans are giving Senator Kerry (D) a pass, but going all out against Senator Hagel (R).

    In both cases, policy is determined by President Obama – he was the one elected, and presumably the Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense are carrying out those policies.

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  41. Paul says:

    Mervel, that is correct. Like I said the president understands that if we are hit big again he and his party will have to go on another hiatus. They feel that desperate times require desperate measures. They still have the war time mentality. It is just different in other “wars”. The do whatever it takes attitude was applauded by everyone save a few. It is unfortunate, but our lack of success in Iraq and Afghanistan is partially due to our lack of demonizing the enemy (heck many in the press showed them to be the victims that they were and are). You don’t win that way. That issue started in Vietnam ask Chuck Hagel or John Kerry. If you identify a situation where you have to go to war it better be one where everybody is a cheerleader. If they can’t get on the band wagon they need to be put away until the war is over. Sad but true. In WW2 we even went too far and put away folks that were on our side.

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  42. Paul says:

    BTW, the guy that presided over some of the war time policies I describe was labeled as a “liberal” so again I think we may have lost sight of what we actually consider to be a “liberal”.

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  43. Will Doolittle says:

    Very few journalists, certainly in the print world, fly first class or stay in posh hotels. Your post, lacking any nuance or perspective on journalism, proves my point. I bet Brian Williams flies in first class and stays in posh hotels, but he and those few like him are the exceptions. Around the world, journalists risk their lives — and lose them — to cover important stories. Lara Logan, a South African TV journalist who has worked for CBS, was brutally and repeatedly raped in a public attack in 2011 while covering the political turmoil in Egypt, and she was just one of many reporters attacked, wounded and killed that year and every year, while courageously doing their jobs. Your comments are wrong and offensive, perhaps intentionally so.

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  44. mervel says:

    Does anyone find it slightly weird that we are giving away our constitutional rights and liberties (illegal searches, internal use of armed forces against US citizens, freedom of speech, etc) in the worry over a terrorist attack which may kill some people and is real, but also is a low probability event, while at the same time very hardily defending our constitutional right to own weapons, which in fact have a higher probability chance of killing one of us.

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  45. Walker says:

    That’s why Fox “News” pumps up the fear factor all the time– when people are frightened, you can get them to do pretty much whatever you want.

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  46. Newt says:

    Probably nobody left to read this, but David Brooks has NYT’s most e-mailed piece http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/08/opinion/brooks-why-hagel-was-picked.html?ref=todayspaper today. He says that Hagel was picked not because of his views on Iran or Israel, but because Obama knows that we must begin making substantial cutbacks in our military to pay for the social safety net (as Europe has). As a Republican war hero with extensive knowledge of the Military Industrial Complex, Hagel will be Obama’s point man in the struggle. Brooks, a conservative, thinks that this is a good idea.

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  47. Paul says:

    Walker, what is that some kind of Fox News conspiracy theory? They are just out to make money what they want people to do is watch. You make it sound like some kind of sinister plot to take over the world (or at least the tristate area, name that cartoon reference!)

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  48. Newt says:

    Agree with Paul. Pumping up paranoia of Fox viewers gives them some kind of psychological kick, and makes them want to watch more, and share the horror of it all with their paranoid, Fox-viewing, friends (some of whom I personally know), thereby boosting ratings. There is also an ideological component, to the Network’s motivation. If you could quantify it, I suspect it would be 90% financial, 10% ideological.

    Ditto many MSNBC and it’s viewers.

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  49. Walker says:

    “You make it sound like some kind of sinister plot to take over the world…”

    No, just a sinister plot to keep taxes low on Rupert and his ilk.

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  50. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Uh-oh! Problems for the Hagel nomination:

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