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. Newt says:


    So, I’m reading the above, and thinking, “Gotta be the ‘The Onion’.. But what if it isn’t?’………What if it’s real?……………..No, couldn’t be!………….They wouldn’t be that obvious!……………What what if it is?….,,………………” And so on.

    Finally finished and clicked back to the top.

    Must now go share it.

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  2. Rancid Crabtree says:

    Doolittle, courageous? Hardly. Mercenary, yes. You avoid entirely the issue of Mrs Rs post- responsibility. B Mann was recently asked, and refused to answer, about his views on the medias responsibility in feeding the psychoses of killers like the Sandy Hook shooter or of how it is the media can watch people, children, die and take no active part in helping them. We’ve felt this way for a long time. The media in many cases are little more than tools for politicians or politicians themselves in a way. Agenda is more important than people. And all this while claiming the moral high ground. Amazing.

    So get off your high horse about your BS nuance. There are millions of us out here who have both been and done and it is insulting for you to imply that your position as a news writer gives you any more credible insight than those who have participated fully in some of these situations.

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  3. Rancid Crabtree says:

    BTW, Ms Logans gang rape was a terrible, horrible thing. So was Daniel Pearls beheading. Yet the US news media for the most part avoids stating the obvious in these events- Islamic radicals are not nice people worthy of our understanding. They understand force and little else. Why is it the US media refuses to label a spade a spade but will spend countless hours and much effort demonizing it’s own citizens?

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  4. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Oh brother Rancid. You and Mrs R. (shouldn’t it be Mrs C?) should get out of the house more often. Maybe Saturday night take the little lady out for a drink, listen to some live music.

    When was the last time you flew into a war zone to report to the world about what was happening so that people could know what was happening? What is the use of freedom of speech if you don’t know what is going on outside of your sheep pasture?

    And what reporter have you ever heard of who suggested that the people who attacked Logan or beheaded Pearl were nice people? I think that by reporting that someone cut another persons head off they are indicating that the beheader isn’t very nice at all.

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  5. Paul says:

    The media like everything gives the people what they want to hear. The truth can be told many different ways. If you don’t like one particular version turn it off.

    Take an issue like Hydrofracking (a big deal down here). There are risks and there are benefits. What the people want to hear is about the risks. So the story looks biased. The same goes for the Quebec Hydro project that Brain reported on heavily. There were things gained and things lost. People wanted to hear more about what was going to be lost so that again made the story look biased.

    You just have to learn to live with it. I give NPR credit since they cover not only bad news but good news.

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  6. Rancid Crabtree says:

    The charge was that the average citizen can’t possibly have the insight a reporter does. Thats garbage. It’s elitist. It’s arrogance. Many of us have been far more into various situations and have far more insight into the nuance of the issue than any reporter not living in the middle of it. But like politcians reporters imply or in this case outright state they know better. Thats garbage.

    Mrs R/C/Helen/whatever

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  7. Will Doolittle says:

    No, Rancid, that wasn’t the “charge.” What I said, in the context of military service, is that people who have done a thing, such as military service, or police work, or even journalism, which I am familiar with, often have a more nuanced view of the job, its possibilities and its limits, than those who have not done it. If you are saying that people who have done something else — I don’t know what you are referring to, specifically — or been to a place, have more insight into that activity than those who haven’t, I agree with you. If you have chopped wood and I haven’t, I agree you have more insight into chopping wood.
    What you said, that reporters are elitist, stay in posh hotels and stand apart from the action, is indisputable, and in most cases, wrong. Most combat reporters get dangerously close to the action and many have died doing it. The same goes for reporters working on all kinds of awful stories. They are doing a critical job, and often take serious risks to do it, so that people who care to be can be informed.

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  8. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Whatever Mrs R, just make sure Mr R doesn’t worm out of a well deserved night out for you.

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  9. Two Cents says:

    time out…


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  10. Rancid Crabtree says:

    Do have any idea how many of our citizens have served Mr Doolittle? Do you really think a reporter getting his 30 second sound bite has the same insight as someone who has 4-8 years of service time? Do have any idea how many have been in law enforcement? Have worked in fire/rescue? Have been and done the things reporters write about but never actually do? More importantly, do you have any idea how many reporters have presented “facts” that are so impossibly wrong that it defies imagination?

    What you are doing is trying to aggrandize your profession.

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  11. Will Doolittle says:

    I don’t see how the number of people in the military or in the police force versus the number of people working in journalism has anything to do with this conversation. I do know some combat reporters served in the military themselves. In fact, some reporters, with the Army Times and the Stars and Stripes, are in the military. So do you respect them or regard them with the same contempt you hold for the profession generally? Reporters have gotten things wrong. Making mistakes is part of every profession. Reporters do report on things they haven’t done, but their job is to learn as much about them as possible and strive to understand them. Good reporters would not hold the sort of generalized opinion of any profession they were reporting on that you do of reporting.

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