So, President Obama nominated former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel to serve as his next defense secretary. To no one’s surprise, the Nebraska senator is facing hard opposition from the GOP, primarily because of they are questioning his stance on Iran and Israel. And to be fair, he’s getting a little heat from the left because of negative comments he made about gay people years ago. He apologized, but some folks are questioning how he will handle the (always) hot topic of gay people in the military. You’d think that the GOP would say “Iran? Israel? Forget all of that. He made homophobic comments. Come here, buddy!” But of course, President Obama nominated him, so there is that.
On NBC’s Meet the Press, Former Secretary of State, General Colin Powell gave Hagel a glowing endorsement, saying:
“I think there are a number of reasons. First, I think he’s had a very, very distinguished public service record that he can stand on. There are a lot of comments about different things he said over the years and I think he will have a chance to respond to all those comments as the confirmation hearings. But it might be useful just to stand back and take a look at this– this man overall, a young man who volunteered to go to Vietnam. They wanted to send him to Europe, a nice, safe place. He said, no, I want to go to Vietnam. He and his brother went. They both were wounded. He was wounded twice. He came back from Vietnam. He went to school under the GI Bill in Veterans Administration. From there, he went to other things in life. He supported President Reagan in his run for office and as a result of that, he received an appointment as Deputy Director of the Veterans Administration [VA].”
According to Powell, Hagel was unhappy with the way the VA was treating veterans.
“To show you the kind of courage this guy has and what he believes in, he quit after one year because he felt the Veterans Administration was not doing a good job for veterans and he couldn’t take that. He went back to private life, started a cellular company. In those days, it was something rather remarkable and new, made a fortune, did very, very well, and he continued to serve. And while he was running that cellular company, he also was president of the USO which was in trouble.”
Powell feels that Hagel’s strength is that he “knows veterans, knows the troops, knows the USO.” The general is dismissive of critics who say “that doesn’t necessarily make him a good candidate for Secretary of Defense.“ In response to the naysayers, Powell said that the men and women in uniform and their families (those whose opinions actually matter) think that knowing the troops and knowing veterans absolutely makes him a good candidate for Secretary of Defense.
I’ll tell you who thinks that makes him a good candidate for Secretary of Defense, the men and women in the armed forces of the United States and their parents who know that this is a guy who will be very careful about putting their lives at risk because he put his life at risk. He knows what war is and he will fight a war if it’s necessary, but he’s a guy who will do it with great deliberation and care.
Hagel has also been co-chairman of the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board and serves on the defense policy board. Powell acknowledged that Hagel occasionally makes controversial comments and “gets in trouble with those who think he should not speak his mind” but that he “says what he believes and he sticks with it.”
Host David Gregory addressed the Iran concerns. “He failed to label Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, a terror organization. He’s advocated direct talks with Iran which have not borne fruit. He even advocated taking force off of the table when dealing with Iran.” Gregory then pulled up a screenshot of Steve Hayes’s The Weekly Standard blog, where Haye wrote:
“Hagel’s views on Iran put him to Obama’s left, although the president has made clear that he doesn’t want war with Iran, and he is in open direct talks– has been open to direct talks, he has never ruled out the military option, as his defense nominee has.”
Powell defended Hagel.
“I don’t think that’s necessarily a current and accurate assessment. I think what Chuck Hagel has said is that nothing is ever off the table, but he’s one who believes in the prospects for negotiation. We have been ready to negotiate under the right set of circumstances with Iran for the last several years with our friends and allies and so, force is on the table, but I’m glad that we have people like the president and like Chuck Hagel who will be very careful when you start throwing around the terms.”
Powell acknowledged that a military option is ” … always feasible, if you tell me what the option is. Are we going to blow up Tehran or are we going to go after some facilities that might be very well protective and hidden?”
Wow, what a concept. A Republican who wants to avoid war whenever possible? But wait – unlike most Republicans in Washington, Powell and Hagel actually SERVED in the military and understand soldiers and veterans. So yeah, they’d have a strong opinion about that.
On Israel, Powell noted that Hagel is a supporter of Israel, even though he will disagree when he “thinks disagreement is appropriate.” Hagel has been criticized for a 1998 comment in which he blamed Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu for stopping the Mideast peace process. The icing on the cake of that comment was: “the Israeli government essentially continues to play games.” In the same interview, Hagel said “What I fear more today is that desperate men do desperate things when you take hope away, and that’s where the Palestinians are today.”
What? Whoa, wait, now Chuck. If you keep saying things like that, the world may begin to view Palestinians as…human beings who matter and should have a right to things like hope. Careful there.
When asked by Gregory if he felt that Hagel placed equal blame on Israelis and Palestinians, Powell responded:
“You will have to ask him what he believes. My judgment and my knowledge of Chuck and my discussion with Chuck would suggest that he wants to see both sides come to the table and find a solution. He supports the peace process. But he is uppermost, a very, very strong supporter of the State of Israel. He’s voted for billions and billions of dollars of aid to Israel. So, I have no question that when it comes to challenges that have anything to do with putting Israel at risk, Chuck Hagel will be on Israel’s side. And remember, he is working for a president. And he will follow the– the policies of that president.”
So pretty much, yeah. He places equal blame on Israelis and Palestinians, even if he won’t admit it.
Gregory was curious about Powell’s opinion on why President Obama is willing to fight the fight for Hagel, but was not prepared to do so in the possible nomination of Susan Rice as Secretary of State. Rice removed herself from consideration after facing staunch Republican opposition and a promise from the Senate Armed Services Committee to reject her as a nominee. She was criticized largely because of her “not so bright” (according to John McCain) explanation of the deadly September 11 attack on the U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi.
In regards to her failed nomination, Powell expressed his frustration with the White House’s processes.
“I think it [Rice nomination] was not handled well. One of the problems with– with Ambassador Rice and with Chuck Hagel, these sort of signals come out that this is who we are thinking about and you are left out there to dangle for weeks. Well, if this is who you are going to nominate, nominate them and let’s get on with the process.”
Read: quit jacking around. He continued with:
“In both the Susan Rice case and– and the Chuck Hagel case, if they were sure that’s who they were going to nominate, I think it should have been done promptly, but all of these sort of test nominations that they send out there, I think just cause the media to naturally focus on it and potential opponents of that nomination just pile on.”
So in other words, quit meandering and get it done. He didn’t attempt to hide his impatience. Just Do It.
On the gay thing….
During President Bill Clinton’s administration, Hagel made an offhand comment about an ambassadorial nominee. He called the man “aggressively gay” and expressed the opinion that this may detract from the man’s effectiveness. He has apologized, and the ambassador has accepted the apology. But it raises the question:
Gregory: “The question that has been raised is can he, as defense secretary, forcefully implement the reversal of don’t ask, don’t tell, at a critical time, especially when they have not resolved same-sex partner benefits, for instance?”
General Powell was quick, of course, to point out that “Don’t ask, don’t tell isn’t there anymore. It doesn’t have to be reversed. It’s gone.” Hagel has said that he will “fully implement don’t ask, don’t tell.”
“There were still issues that have to be resolved but I think he will go after these issues in a way that will be very consistent with the administration’s position with the law and with the aspirations of our gay and lesbian men– men and women in military. You know, he is now responsible for them. He is now responsible for them having a proper environment in which to do their jobs and that will include making sure that don’t ask, don’t tell and the elimination of don’t ask, don’t tell is fully implemented.”
Hagel has called the military a “bloated organization.” Powell agrees, apparently (and I do, too, if my opinion matters). “….with respect to going in and finding things within the Department of Defense that perhaps you don’t need or you can eliminate, if that’s what you mean by bloat, I hope he does find bloat and gets rid of it.”
“…there are probably things in the department that you can take a hard look at and determine whether or not you need it in light of the current situation and the strategy that we are implementing. You know, when– when I was chairman, we saw the end of the Soviet Union, a completely different change in– in our strategic positioning. And we eliminated a million troops and cut the budget 25 percent. That’s not the case now. But there’s no reason why a secretary of defense should go into office thinking can’t change anything, can’t cut anything.”
And he didn’t come right out and say it, but he implied that the GOP would be the problem. “You know, the people who say that, oh, that’s terrible, he is going to try to find things to cut in the department are the same people who are saying we have got to cut spending, we have got to cut spending. “ Indeed. He was nice at the beginning of the show, but he got down and dirty and told us what he REALLY thinks about the GOP later in the show, as reported by my colleague.
Will Hagel get confirmed? According to General Powell, yes.
I think, he’s ultimately– he’s superbly qualified based on his overall record, based on his service to the country, based on how he feels about troops and veterans and families. I think he will do a great job as Secretary of Defense.
I just can’t argue with a guy who emphatically uses “very, very” even more than I do. Those of use who say “very, very” feel very, very strongly about our views,and I’m going to trust General Powell’s judgement very, very much.
I am an unapologetic member of the Christian Left, and have spent a lot of time working with “the least of these” and disadvantaged and oppressed populations. I’m passionate about their struggles. To stay on top of topics I discuss, subscribe to my public updates on Facebook, follow me on Twitter, or connect with me via LinkedIn. I also have a grossly neglected blog. Find me somewhere and let’s discuss stuff.