On Monday, President Obama nominated former Nebraska GOP senator Chuck Hagel to replace Leon Panetta as the next secretary of defense. While this decision had been expected for several weeks, some people on the left and right had hoped the White House would come to their senses and choose someone else.
Mr. Hagel may have the credentials to serve as defense secretary. He was in the Vietnam War and earned two Purple Hearts. He sat on the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, various subcommittees relating to Asian and African affairs, and the Select Committee on Intelligence. He has a strong interest in foreign policy and national security matters and supports the military.
Yet a politician’s record, no matter how impressive it may be, means little compared to the personal qualities he brings to the table. In Mr. Hagel’s case, he is clearly his own worst enemy.
Most conservatives know this: Mr. Hagel went from being a strong supporter of the war in Iraq to one of the fiercest Republican critics. He did the same thing with Afghanistan. He was one of four GOP senators who held up the Patriot Act’s renewal in 2005, stating he “took an oath of office to the Constitution, I didn’t take an oath of office to my party or my president.” In a November 2007 interview with the Council on Foreign Relations, Mr. Hagel said this of the Bush administration: “I would rate this one the lowest in capacity, in capability, in policy, in consensus — almost every area, I would give it the lowest grade … one of the most arrogant, incompetent administrations I’ve ever seen personally or ever read about.”
Some liberals know this as well: In 1998, Mr. Hagel famously opposed President Bill Clinton’s nomination of James Hormel as U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg became he felt the latter was “openly, aggressively gay.” He finally got around to apologizing to Mr. Hormel last month.
Supporters of Israel should know this: While Mr. Hagel claims to be on their side, he has called for negotiations with the terrorist organization Hamas — and supported a Hamas-Fatah unity government. In a 2006 interview with Middle East analyst Aaron David Miller, Mr. Hagel said, “The Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people … . I have always argued against some of the dumb things they do because I don’t think it’s in the interest of Israel. I just don’t think it’s smart for Israel.” He even went so far as to say, “I’m not an Israeli senator. I’m a United States senator.”
Considering Mr. Hagel’s controversial views on defense-related matters, his consideration for a Cabinet post makes little sense. Yet Mr. Obama has foolishly put his name forward, and is obviously ready to fight to ensure he serves in this role.
This decision proves two things: First, Mr. Obama is no friend of Israel. A friend would never nominate someone like Mr. Hagel for this type of position. Second, the Obama White House has a skewed vision of what a mainstream Republican is. It’s not the former senator, that’s for sure.
Yes, Mr. Hagel received an 84 percent lifetime rating from the American Conservative Union. That’s an impressive number, but it’s also fair to say his political views have radically transformed in recent years. His foreign policy vision is certainly not in synch with today’s GOP. Moreover, his support for direct dealings with rogue states and terrorist groups is more in line with the president’s agenda.
Do you think Mr. Obama would have considered Mr. Hagel as a vice-presidential candidate in 2008 — and now as defense secretary — if he was actually a staunch conservative Republican? Not a chance.
Mr. Obama likes Mr. Hagel because he doesn’t toe the party line, holds shaky conservative credentials, publicly criticizes Republicans and has soft centrist positions on foreign policy. That’s the kind of “Republican” and “conservative” the Obama White House likes: a RINO, or “Republican In Name Only.”
Still, there could be a silver lining. Mr. Hagel’s nomination might be a blessing in disguise for Republicans.
The GOP needs to show that RINOs like Mr. Hagel are opposed to modern conservative positions, including stronger foreign policy measures, fighting terrorism and protecting the nation’s safety and security, and supporting Israel’s right to defend itself. It could jump-start the process of redefining the GOP’s political vision for the electorate — and ultimately improve their political fortunes in the process.
Michael Taube is a former speechwriter for Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and a columnist with The Washington Times.
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