Monday, January 07, 2013

Elitists in the Senate don't want an enlisted man in charge at the Pentagon

The President has decided to stick by his original intent to nominate former Senator Chuck Hagel, a Republican from Nebraska, as the new Secretary of Defense, to replace Leon Panetta.

Many Senators, especially among Hagel's former Republican colleagues are gearing up to oppose him. The truth is that whatever other issues they may have (and we will look at those,) there is one underlying fact: Chuck Hagel, if confirmed will be something that other Secretaries of Defense have not been. A combat veteran and an enlisted man rather than an officer. Hagel rose to the rank of sergeant and served in Vietnam, as a squad leader, where he was awarded the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry and a commendation, as well as two purple hearts.

Fundamentally, that's what it comes down to. The Senators who will be sitting in judgement of Chuck Hagel are largely Ivy League educated, and often had things handed to them along the way. If they did serve in the military, they were officers, not 'grunts,' as enlisted soldiers are sometimes called. So they were much more comfortable confirming Secretaries of Defense like the past several, i.e. Leon Panetta (who was an army intelligence officer,) Robert Gates (who went directly into the CIA,) Donald Rumsfeld (an officer and flight instructor in the peacetime navy,) Bill Cohen (who was never in the military) William Perry (who was briefly an enlisted man in the peacetime military but later became an officer,) Les Aspin (an officer who served during Vietnam as a systems analyst in the Pentagon,) Dick Cheney(who subsisted on several college deferments to avoid going to Vietnam, though as Secretary of Defense under George H.W. Bush and later Vice President he was perfectly agreeable to sending other people off to fight,) Frank Carlucci (a naval officer who never saw combat) and Caspar Weinberger (a captain on Douglas MacArthur's intelligence staff who never saw combat.) IN FACT, IF CHUCK HAGEL BECOMES SECRETARY OF DEFENSE HE WOULD BE THE FIRST SOLDIER TO GO THROUGH HIS CAREER AS AN ENLISTED MAN EVER TO HOLD THE OFFICE! He would also be the first combat veteran since Elliot Richardson, a Nixon administration official who led a platoon at Normandy as a young lieutanant. Later, after he had served as Secretary of Defense, Richardson became the Attorney General and showed he had much the same stuff as Hagel when he resigned rather than fire the Special Watergate Prosecutor on direct orders from the President. Even Richardson was an officer, however. The idea of an enlisted man giving orders to the entire military is upsetting and shocking to elitists in the Senate who believe that a military man must at least have received a commission before daring to stand before them and ask permission to serve in the office.

Traditionally, Presidents have had the right to select their cabinet members, with the term, 'advice and consent of the Senate,' mainly a formality. In fact, in the past century, only three cabinet nominees were not approved by the Senate. In 1925, Calvin Coolidge nominated Charles B. Warren for Attorney General. The Senate rejected Warren over his ties to the 'sugar trust,' a consortium of sugar companies that had been attempting to gain monopolistic control over the industry. The Senate rejected him, 41-39 (with over a dozen Senators abstaining.) Coolidge stupidly re-nominated Warren, and the Senate rejected him again.

In 1959, President Eisenhower nominated Louis Strauss, former head of the Atomic Energy Commission. Strauss, as head of the AEC had overseen a monthlong hearing which resulted in the revokation of the security clearance of J. Robert Oppenheimer, who had been the director of the Manhattan Project over Oppenheimer's political views. In 1954, when the hearing was held, the United States was still in the grip of McCarthyism, but by 1959 things had changed so much that Strauss' preoccupation with Oppenheimer and previous anti-communist witch hunt were held against him by many Senators, particularly those who saw in Strauss a stand-in for McCarthy, who many of them remembered and not fondly. Strauss didn't help his own case with his abrasive personality, arguing with members of the Senate who were questioning him. In the end, he was rejected by the Senate on a 49-46 vote.

In 1989, George H.W. Bush nominated Senator John Tower as Secretary of Defense. The Senate itself has always been considered a 'safe' place to go for a nominee, and that is what Bush thought, as Tower was a sitting Senator and Senators were generally more than happy to vote for a member of their own body, knowing them well (and in addition sometimes wanting to keep collegial relations because one day many of them might be nominees for cabinet positions.) What he miscalculated on was that Senators might know their own members too well. Senators generally don't air each other's dirty laundry to the press for obvious reasons, but as a nominee, it didn't take long for Tower's reputation for womanizing and heavy drinking to become an issue. In other words, Senators may know the nominee, but they may know personally issues that could disqualify him without having to root around and find those things. That was the case with Tower, who was rejected by a 53-47 vote.

Despite strong partisanship following the 2000 election, only two of George W. Bush's nominees even faced much questioning over their appointment. The only one who was opposed even by a majority of Democrats was Attorney General John Ashcroft, who won a 58-42 confirmation vote after issues were raised over his past refusal to enforce court orders on desegregation and other issues. Later during Bush's presidency, the Senate blocked one of his nominees, John Bolton as Ambassador to the U.N. over concern that Bolton's abrasive style and inflammatory rhetoric might not be suited to the position; Bush made a recess appointment and appointed Bolton to the position anyway.

In 2008, President Obama, despite having a couple of nominees who had to step down before they had a hearing over allegations of scandal unrelated to either the President or the positions they were nominated for, was able to get the Senate to confirm all of his nominees (the most controversial probably being Eric Holder.) But two weeks ago, Susan Rice, who the President wanted to nominate for Secretary of Defense, stepped down after it would be clear that she would be blocked by the Senate over questions related to faulty information she apparently received and relayed regarding the attack on the Benghazi consulate in September. As soon as that happened, attention turned to Hagel, who was even then rumored to be in the running for Secretary of Defense. Hagel is not only a former Senator, but a former Republican Senator, though one who was known for being willing to speak his mind and not necessarily constrained by party orthodoxy; for example Hagel, despite voting for the resolution in 2002 that was used by the Bush administration to justify the Iraq war, was one of the first Republicans to openly regret his vote and speak out against the war. At times his bluntness has gotten him in trouble, for example in 1998, he criticized James Hormel, President Clinton's nominee to serve as ambassador to Luxembourg, as "openly, aggressively gay." However, Hagel has apologized to Hormel and said that he was wrong and is now fully committed to supporting the rights of the LGBT community, and while Hormel originally was skeptical he has now accepted Hagel's apology. Hagel has said that if nominated he would continue to fully implement the repeal of 'Don't ask don't tell' that the Defense Department is now enforcing. While he could get some questions over this, I doubt if that would sink his nomination, since many people have over time changed their position on a number of issues including gay rights, and that includes some of Hagel's Senate colleagues (remember that in 1993, Bill Clinton settled for DADT because Congress wouldn't pass a law allowing openly gay members to serve in the military; but two years ago Congress did just that at President Obama's request, and quite a few members who were present in 1993 voted for it two years ago but probably would not have then.) Far better for Hagel to just say, as he has in effect done, "I was wrong," and move on.

A bigger issue with some members of the Senate is likely to be officially Hagel's stances on Israel and Iran. In fact, Hagel has several times expressed support for Israel, but has often criticized the power of the Israeli lobby in the U.S. Well, he's right. If the pro-Israel lobby wasn't so strong, we might not have seen so much opposition to Hagel for just cricitizing them. Hagel has openly opposed Iraeli settlement policies in the West Bank (something that President Obama opposes too) and in fact he is also correct that as long as Iraelis are building settlements on the West Bank, they are in effect rendering any kind of a 'two state solution' impossible. Hagel's opponents have taken to smearing him as a result as an anti-Semite. This is not unusual treatment for anyone who speaks out against Israeli policies (I've experienced it myself even though I was raised in a Jewish household) but even former Secretary of State William Cohen, himself both a Jew and a Republican, has defended Hagel against this charge

Hagel has also been skeptical of U.S. involvement in foreign wars and opposed both the troop surge in Iraq and the continued deployment in Afghanistan. Hagel is also on record as being skeptical of military operations against Iran, believing that it is much easier to get into a war than to get out of one. For this reasons, he wants to give sanctions a chance to work before contemplating military action in Iran or anyplace else.


Unlike the Secretaries of Defense that most members of the Senate are comfortable with, Chuck Hagel understands the ugly reality of combat and is reluctant to send soldiers into harm's way. Maybe that's the real reason why mostly Republicans and some Democrats in the Senate are uncomfortable with the idea of Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense. It's true that he is a mere enlisted man, but they could probably get past their pride and arrogance on the matter if he wasn't so reluctant to send other people's children to foreign shores to fight and die. They don't like Hagel's reluctance, because they've always been so willing and eager themselves to give the word and vote to send the sons and daughters of others to go marching off to the next apocalypse.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

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