Former Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel is currently under sentorial review for the job as America's next Secretary of Defense, but questions about his aptness, ideology and track record of discincerting comments about Israel and LGBT issues are calling his candidacy into question. Should the Senate overlook these concerns or keep Hagel in retirement? Our writers decide. Photos of the authors by Sunny Kang / North by Northwestern.
I’m a Medill sophomore double majoring in American history and I’ve been liberal as long as I could remember.
While growing up in the far suburbs of New York City in a devoutly Democratic family certainly has its influences, the ideas of my parents’ party have always just made sense to me, even when we’ve butted heads about just how far these ideas should be taken.
To me, it makes sense to have a government that invests in and financially protects its citizens as long as they meet their end of the bargain. It makes sense to me to have a government that guarantees not only freedom of religion, but also freedom from religion. It makes sense to me to have a government that’s more concerned with preserving peace than projecting power.
But more than anything, I believe if politicians focused more on the good of their country and less on the good of their party, the actions that they’d take would make a lot more sense.
Chuck Hagel has his flaws, there's no doubt about that. But when it comes to redefining America's abysmal military policy of the past 40 years, he's the right man for the job.
Hagel's appointment has drawn ire from both parties for various legitimate reasons. Democrats, Log Cabin Republicans and the Human Rights Campaign have called out the former republican senator from Nebraska for an alleged anti-LGBT record, including an insensitive comment he made about an ambassadorial candidate in 1998, calling him "openly, aggressively gay," a remark for which he has apologized.
Republicans have criticized him for not being supportive enough of Israel, for claiming that, "the Jewish lobby initimidates a lot of people on Capitol Hill," and for supporting the Global Zero campaign for the worldwide elimination of nuclear weapons.
The criticisms are valid and concerning enough to make this Democrat wonder if Hagel was really Obama's best choice on character alone. But confirming Hagel is critical to refocusing this country's foreign policy into one that creates more friends than enemies in a world that has been increasingly hostile to American interests.
Hagel, a Vietnam War veteran, is well-acquainted with the realities of combat. While he says his views on American military intervention aren't shaped by this, his guiding principle is one the country desperately needs to embrace: American military intervention frequently does more harm than good and should be limited to cases in which it is absolutely necessary.
Since World War II, the United States military has been engaged in a series of conflicts of questionable merit and legality that have caused undeniable humanitarian, fiscal and reputational damage. Such conflicts as the Vietnam War, the American involvment in the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the recent Iraq War were justified at their beginnings as necessary measures the country must take to protect its safety and ensure freedom around the world. Yet in these three cases, especially the first two mentioned, the mission has done more harm than good.
Americans are still struggling through the physical, emotional, diplomatic and economic toll the Iraq War took on the nation, so when Republicans shout Hagel down for not being aggressive enough on terror or forceful enough in asserting the American military's role in world order, they completely ignore the reprecussions of this country's past.
Hagel looks at the complicated world before him rationally and realistically, which means he knows that the United States military isn't invincible.
He knows that throwing unconditional support behind Israel while half-heartedly condemning its illegal settlements is no way to save face in a region where American flags are routinely burnt in disgust. He knows that taking a rational approach to foreign policy issues is far more effective, efficient and affordable than threatening military action at the drop of a pin or the violation of an arbitrary rule.
The thing is, his ideas aren't extreme as Republicans would like you to believe. In fact, he shares a staggering amount of ideological ground with Robert Gates, current Secretary of State Leon Panetta's predecesor.
Both Gates, a Republican who was appointed by President George W. Bush in 2006 and was carried over into the Obama adminstration, and Hagel have similar beleifs on dealing with Israel and Iran, along with cutting this country's unnecessarily high defense budget.
Not only can Hagel guide Americans down the right path militarily, but his amicable working relationship with newly-confirmed Secretary of State John Kerry can also bring the two departments together after years of internal animosity.
Hagel has his flaws – flaws that still trouble many Americans. But the United States cannot fall back into a path of making more enemies than friends in a world where America's image is in need of serious rehabilitation.
We just can't afford it.
I’m a Medill freshman from Cleveland, Ohio. I consider myself very socially conservative, and my Catholic upbringing certainly helped shaped this. My individual life experiences and introspection have strengthened these foundations, so my beliefs are the product of both religious and personal means.
I am slightly more moderate when it comes to fiscal matters, but I still fall within the realm of conservatism. Both my dad and maternal grandfather lost their fathers at a young age, so their stories of hard work and self-determination to make their own living have inspired me. I firmly believe in the power of the human spirit, and the oft-cited Chinese parable of “Give a man a fish...teach a man to fish...” perfectly sums up my belief on the government’s proper role. I am not opposed on principle to most federal programs, but I believe that their aim should be to make themselves unnecessary over time. The government should focus less on instantly solving its citizens’ problems and focus more on helping the people forge their own solutions.
As Chuck Hagel’s confirmation hearings continue this week, President Obama’s choice continues to seem worse and worse. His performance last week should be more than enough to call his aptitude into question, but that is unfortunately just the beginning of this messy situation.
John McCain made him look silly on a yes or no question regarding his adamant opposition to the surge in Iraq. It is more than a little frightening to see that the potential Secretary of Defense is unwilling to take responsibility for his beliefs on very critical military issues. “Leaving that judgement to history” is a startling lack of accountability on Hagel’s part, and unbecoming of the leader of the Pentagon.
His inability to handle grilling from his fellow senators is far from his only concerning quality. It is rare for a cabinet appointment to pass through without some contention from the opposing party. However, the amount of heat Hagel is receiving from both ends of the political spectrum is staggering.
Hagel’s seemingly laissez-faire approach to foreign affairs is troubling when it comes to perennial hotspots like Iran and Israel. He has been consistently opposed to preemptive action in Iran, and has even opposed sanctions. Furthermore, he has said that he supports negotiating with Hamas and Hezbollah, militant groups with whom the U.S. and Israel have historically refused to negotiate.
He has also made several controversial statements about the U.S.’s general support of the Israeli cause. Most notably, he said in a 2008 interview that he is “not an Israeli senator, but a United States senator.” These comments have led to allegations that his beliefs are borderline anti-Semitic.
The ticking time bomb of Hagel’s political statements has also offended the LGBT community. In 1998, he opposed President Clinton’s nominee for an ambassador post on the grounds that he was "openly, aggressively gay." Though he eventually was forced to apologize for these remarks last December, his stance appears to have changed very little. With the repeal of "don’t ask, don’t tell" still a very recent headline, the appointment of a Defense Secretary with this record seems dubious.
With all these flaws, it seems puzzling that President Obama would select such an incendiary appointee. The fact that Hagel is himself a Republican is not as confusing as it might seem. After all, Obama’s first Defense Secretary, Robert Gates, was retained from Bush’s administration. Because of Hagel’s somewhat pacifistic approach to military affairs, this appointment represents a recent trend in Obama’s self-reliance.
President Obama seems to be taking more and more power into his own hands this term.
John Kerry has already been confirmed as his new Secretary of State. Kerry’s stance on war and foreign policy has been under constant scrutiny since the early 1970s, when he testified against his fellow Vietnam veterans. Neither Kerry nor Hagel are by any stretch of the imagination war hawks, making them more like sycophants than the leaders of a global military power.
Hagel will likely make it through the confirmation hearings, despite all of the controversy that he has stirred. However, I feel that the dispute is exactly what Obama appointed him for, so as to distract attention from his true plan. Hagel and Kerry will likely be figureheads for Obama's policies, puppets in his foreign policy game.
President Obama purposely picked these men because they will likely follow his plans for handling Iran, Israel and Iraq without question. Rather than rely on their own expertise (or lack thereof), they will submit to the whim of the President. By appointing “yes men” instead of secretaries capable of running the post competently on their own, Obama has bitten off more than he can chew.
Hagel is the wrong man to be Secretary of Defense, plain and simple . His responses at the Senate hearings have been downright frightening, and if President Obama truly believes him to be the best man available, hopefully this ordeal will make him change his mind.