- - Tuesday, February 5, 2013



Chuck Hagel, in all likelihood, will be confirmed as President Obama’s next secretary of defense.

Sure, Senate Republicans will put up a fight, pounding their desks and making plenty of political hay over Mr. Hagel’s bumbling incompetence, utter lack of qualifications and horrible judgment. But, in the end, they will let him pass amid their vocal objection.

Politically, this is probably the wisest course for the Republicans, given that the Hagel nomination was nothing more than a partisan trap set by Mr. Obama. Do you really think that this fairly obscure Republican has-been from Nebraska is the only person on the planet qualified to carry out Mr. Obama’s defense policy?

Of course not. Mr. Obama picked Mr. Hagel because he is a Republican and because he is an embarrassing doofus. By thrusting him forward, Mr. Obama can claim the mantle of bipartisanship.

Mr. Hagel’s comically bad performance at his confirmation hearing gave the White House the opportunity to wince and tell The New York Times that the nominee was “somewhere between baffling and incomprehensible.”

But, after all, what can we say? I mean, he is a Republican, the White House was saying. So, of course, he is stupid. But that is just how committed we are to bipartisanship.

The second part of the trap snaps every time Republicans justifiably scream over the unworthiness of Mr. Hagel’s nomination. For Mr. Obama, this opposition is further proof of the Republican Party’s insanely nasty partisanship. “Even when I nominated a fellow Republican,” Mr. Obama can say, “they still went crazy.” All because, he will say, it was Mr. Obama doing the nominating.

Still, it is worth taking a moment to highlight what a despicable human being Chuck Hagel is and how woefully out of his depth he would be in any serious government position.

For starters, Mr. Hagel is legendary in the halls of Congress for his explosive and unprovoked temper. Usually, these half-cocked tirades are directed at underlings trying to carry out his half-baked ideas. This is how Mr. Hagel unfailingly earned one of the highest rates of staff turnover during his Senate career. Do you really want a hotheaded bully in charge of the most powerful military ever amassed on earth? Apparently it is the price Mr. Obama is willing to pay to score a few political points.

Mr. Hagel’s calmer, more deliberative judgment is even more frightening. Take, for instance, the votes he cast in the Senate about whether to go to war in Iraq and then whether to send in reinforcements when our troops ran into unanticipated opposition.

Senators of that day can be divided into three categories. There are those who opposed the war and voted against sending any troops. These were principled men and women.

Then there are those who voted for the war and when things got ugly — which they always do in a war — they voted to send in reinforcements. For them, the mission was critically worth it. These men and women, too, were principled.

Then there was Chuck Hagel. He voted for the war at a time when the American public wanted blood after 9/11. But after public support inevitably waned, and it came time to send in reinforcements — a strategy that became known as “the surge” — the mission for Mr. Hagel suddenly lost its luster. On the question of whether the mission was worth the lives of our very bravest, Mr. Hagel changed his mind.

As a Vietnam vet himself, Mr. Hagel might have realized that there is no such thing as an easy war or a war without complications. He might have realized just how wrong it is to pin a decision about going to war on public opinion. How dare he send a single troop to die in a war so unimportant to him that it wasn’t even worth sending in reinforcements when the first troops got pinned down.

It should forever be remembered as the most appalling congressional display of political cowardice in decades. But, lucky for Chuck Hagel, he will not be alone in the Obama administration. Former Sens. Joseph R. Biden, John F. Kerry and Hillary Rodham Clinton all voted the exact same way.

Charles Hurt can be reached at [email protected]

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