EDITORIAL: The Hagel nomination

Obama goes on the offensive with choice for defense secretary

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The only way the nomination of Chuck Hagel to be the secretary of defense makes sense, political or otherwise, is that Barack Obama is looking for a further opportunity to show the Republicans who’s the boss of bosses in Washington. This is the fight the president didn’t need, and might regret.

Neither the president nor any of his men (and women) have made a persuasive case for Mr. Hagel, or indeed much of any case, because there is none. He served two terms in the U.S. Senate, where he distinguished himself mostly by being not very distinguished. But for the controversy over his selection, he would have left Washington not to be remembered at all.

Nearly everything Mr. Obama has done since his election to a second term has been tinged with spite and ill will, as if those who opposed him in November must endure further disappointment in January. The nominations of Sen. John Kerry as secretary of state and Mr. Hagel as secretary of defense are of a piece with his obstinate refusal to negotiate a genuinely bipartisan “fiscal cliff” agreement. Give the opposition nothing and challenge them to do something about it.

There is nothing in Mr. Hagel’s record to commend him to an office that until now has been held by men of mature judgment and with the achievements to prove it. It’s difficult to imagine Chuck Hagel in a line of defense secretaries with James Schlesinger, Donald H. Rumsfeld, Caspar Weinberger, Dick Cheney, Les Aspin, William Perry, William S. Cohen and Robert M. Gates, among others.

Mr. Hagel’s chief distinction is that he rubs the president’s rivals and foes the wrong way. Even the way the discussion of an appointment for Mr. Hagel was started, weeks ago in a White House leak that he was under consideration, suggests the president was eager for a fight. In his remarks Monday, nodding toward the opposition building around the nomination, the president said his choice “represents the bipartisan tradition we need more of in Washington.” The president knows, of course, that Mr. Hagel, who pointedly declined to endorse his old friend John McCain in his race against the president in 2008, is regarded as a rogue Republican. This is not “the bipartisan tradition” we need more of in Washington.

Much of the examination of Mr. Hagel’s record will center on his view of the Middle East, and how American foreign policy should be shaped there. This is where the politics of spite must give way to the grown-up considerations of the real world. Mr. Hagel has opposed the tightening of sanctions against Iran. He has said spiteful things about Israel, the loyalties of American Jews and the so-called “Jewish lobby” in Congress.

Sometimes his concerns have verged on petty. When he was president and CEO of the World USO, he tried to close a USO canteen for American sailors in the Israeli port of Haifa, citing budget concerns. He dismissed Israeli objections with a curt “Let the Jews pay for it.”

Mr. Obama had other choices available, distinguished Democrats all, such as Ashton Carter, deputy to outgoing Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta; Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus; and Michele Flournoy, a former undersecretary for policy. Any one of them would have prevented the nasty confirmation hearings that lie ahead if the Republicans in the Senate do their duty.

The Washington Times

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