This past week, former Senator Charles Hagel began hearings on his nomination to serve as the third Secretary of Defense under President Obama. The President must believe that Hagel is the man for the job, because it was almost inevitable that the nomination would be controversial on both sides of the aisle. The left is understandably wary of the Senator’s record on gay rights after he personally torpedoed the nomination of James Hormel to be Ambassador to Luxembourg, on the grounds that Hormel was “openly, aggressively gay.”
If Hagel were the nominee of President Bush or a similarly right-wing administration, that might be reason for concern. I believe Hagel is smart enough to realize that he is being invited to serve the President who shepherded the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” through Congress. The President would probably never had nominated Hagel if not assured that the former Senator had made peace with the nation’s shifting attitudes on LGBT issues.
Hagel is also suspected of being a less than perfect friend of the state of Israel, and has admittedly made some ill-considered remarks about the “Jewish Lobby.” But the truth is that Israel is not simply an American colony in the Middle East, and that all American citizens and elected officials have a right to their own opinion on the subject. I, for one, am somewhat reassured that Hagel shows a degree of independent thought on the subject, regardless of whether one agrees or disagrees.
Hagel’s independence has also drawn fire from people like Senator John McCain, who accuse the nominees of beating the war drums on Iran with insufficient vigor. Again, this is one arena of debate where not being a lemming is an excellent qualification for the job in question.
At Hagel’s nomination hearing, we were treated to the sad spectacle of numerous senators, including McCain, ignoring the subject of the war that Hagel would have to oversee (Afghanistan) in order to refight the political battle over a war that is over and done everywhere but in the conservative blogosphere. Then-Senator Hagel, previously a hawk and bestest buddy with McCain, had broken with the party during the second Bush Administration, daring to criticize the war itself and the “surge” of additional troops.
Republican orthodoxy still holds that the second Iraq war was a good idea and that the 2006 “surge” was successful and we really “won” that war. Defense hawks like McCain believe that with the same fervor that Rep. Paul Broun believes that evolution is a “lie straight from the pit of Hell,” and are equally delusional in that belief.
With former friends like these, who needs political enemies? Is it any wonder that the nominee’s political endorsements in recent elections have not been for Republican candidates?