Chuck Hagel: A Turning Point for the GOP

On hearing of the birth of his granddaughter, President Herbert Hoover was reputed to have said, “Thank God she doesn’t have to be confirmed by the Senate.”

In that regard, perhaps not much has changed in Washington since the 31st president’s time, although the whole process seems more fractious than ever before, especially in today’s media-drenched environment.

In the past month we have seen an unprecedented public vetting, a virtual “trial in absentia” of two potential cabinet nominees: U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice for secretary of state and former Senator Chuck Hagel for secretary of defense. These searing spectacles were painful to watch, and they will make more than a few future public servants think twice about subjecting themselves to such battles.

Last week, President Obama did the right thing and finally nominated Senator Hagel for secretary of defense. Whatever happens, President Obama is in a no-lose situation. If Hagel is confirmed, the president gets his choice—a brave and seasoned foreign policy and defense expert. If Hagel is rejected—and this move would only be led by Hagel’s own party—President Obama will likely watch the inevitable weakening of the GOP, as disgusted Republican moderates think yet again about the direction of their party.

Most of the opposition to Hagel’s nomination has been centered around his views on Israeli security and his attitude toward gay public servants. By now the country’s A-list of elder statesmen and analysts have refuted the accusations against the former senator. Additionally, both AIPAC, the powerful pro-Israel interest group, and the Human Rights Campaign, the influential gay-equality group, have indicated that they will not oppose Hagel’s confirmation.

Despite what should be a resolution of these concerns, there are still those who charge that Hagel’s thinking on military policy is “outside the mainstream” on defense spending and nuclear developments in Iran. Ironically, even the Defense Department has acknowledged that it is “bloated,” and while some policymakers have blasted Hagel for seeking direct negotiations with Iran over its contested nuclear program, they would do well to look to the past. Throughout the Cold War, Republicans and Democrats alike met repeatedly with their Soviet counterparts, even though the Communist ideology and the Soviets’ possession of the hydrogen bomb were existential threats to the United States.

On the issue of sanctions, Hagel’s approach also has its place in our national security traditions. All thinking politicians have grappled with finding the right balance between diplomatic pressure and the threat or use of military force. Unilateral measures, without an international agreement to impose them, can potentially have counterproductive results—which might range from reducing the U.S.’s maneuvering room to producing an indigenous groundswell of support for a besieged authoritarian regime. Hagel has been right to think in a nuanced way. In policy terms this has always been, apparently until recently, a highly prized attribute. This also happens to be where most ordinary Americans stand today.

I have known and worked with Senator Hagel for decades now, first when he served as a board member of the Eisenhower Institute, later during his time in the Senate, and then again when we both served on the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future. He is a man who has always put his country first. Like those of the greatest generation before him, he knows of the cost and unpredictability of war. He is ready to wage war if necessary, but not until other measures have been tried.  He is a veteran, a pragmatist and a staunch supporter of this country’s allies, including Israel. The smear campaign that has been underway is the work of a small group of people in pursuit of their own power. A vocal minority should not be allowed to derail his nomination.

At the end of the day, however, the impact of the Hagel nomination could well be about the future of the Republican Party.

The Republican Party is now at a crossroads. Over the last decade moderate Republicans have felt increasingly out of place in its ranks. If the GOP confirms Hagel, it could bolster the idea of a “big tent” Republican Party. A GOP-led rejection of a Republican war hero with impeccable centrist credentials, however, could well be a fatal blow to that concept, along with some of the party’s longest and most successful traditions.

On the nomination of Hagel, GOP Minority Leader Mitch McConnell—who has been an admirer of Senator Hagel in the past—vowed that Hagel would get a “fair hearing” when he comes before the Senate. This is reassuring indeed. President Obama deserves to have his selection of Hagel confirmed by the Senate.  But if the Republicans block his confirmation, watch while more loyal rank and file GOP moderates flee the party for independent status.

19 thoughts on “Chuck Hagel: A Turning Point for the GOP

  1. Others did not share my concerns about Chuck Hagel and i wish him well in his new career as Secretary of Defense. He is too young to have seen World War II bumper stickers “Loose lips, sink ships” and perhaps some who were concerned about his speeches should cut him some slack.

  2. I take issue with nuclear waste disposal being a peripheral issue. An expansion of nuclear industry may be necessary to combat climate change. Nuclear energy does not produce greenhouse gases. There are other sources of energy that do not produce greenhouse gases, for example, solar and wind. But they do not produce continous power. Nuclear reactors produce extremely radioactive waste. The plan has been to dispose of this waste in a repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada. This option may no longer be available and the Blue Ribbon Commission that Chuck Hagel was member of was charged with coming up with alternative solutions for managing and eventually permanently disposing of this waste. Chuck Hagel’s attendance at meetings of this commission was poor. I do not mean to suggest that attendance alone is important (even if one attended one could be sleeping or looking at a computer screen instead of paying attention). At the present time, all of the nuclear waste (also called spent fuel or used fuel) is stored at reactor sites, some in spent fuel pools and some in casks. These pools and casks are not certified to store the nuclear waste indefinitely. Present law requires it to be stored in a repository. Furthermore, a commitment has been made to utilities and residents living near reactors that the material will be removed. It has been difficult inthe past to find communities willing to accept this waste and the Blue Ribbon Commission has suggested establishing a new organization to manage the waste, changing arrngements for funding it, establishing a consolidated temporary storage facility, using a consent-based process for siting disposal facilities and changing legislation governing nuclear waste disposal.

  3. The first President I voted for was Dwight Eisenhower. I was pleased to accept an ambassadorial appointment from Ronald Reagan. But what Republicans are saying and doing now is hateful and destructive.

    Peter Bridges

  4. “Outside the mainstream” should not be the main criterion for cabinet appointees. Heading a large,expensive department requires administrative ability as well as ability to persuade the House and Senate to approve of authorization an appropriation bills required by the Department of Defense.

  5. Susan, spot on as always. Chuck “out of the mainstream” Hagel GOP SOD appointment. Could B.O. be more astute w/his Cairo remarks(2009) & political capital??!! IKE had it just right. Keeping the Israeli cause, lobby, Bibi Netanyahou, arms/millitary, $$$$ per capita support, realistic & NOT BLIND & UNBRIDLED, will keep US/USA SAFER than ALL TSA AGENTS AT OUR AIRPORTS!!

  6. A characteristically comprehensive and wise assessment, all the more valuable because based on first-hand insight and acquaintance. On the important matters, Hagel’s “outside the mainstream” is to most of us an asset, not a liability! A shrewd tactical move, as well as an inspired appointment on the President’s part.

  7. At ten years of age, I covered my one-room school desk with my hand-made “I Like Ike” cutouts, much to my teacher’s dismay. And I learned about the deep roots of the snippy, snarky, anti-adult mission of her union at first hand as well as the inappropriate use of paste on wood surfaces.

    In reading this essay, I was taken back to the day when public discourse was carried on in an adult way. Your essay could easily have appeared in the NYT as a perfectly shaped and sounded adult essay, a very real treat for someone who has missed that level of public discourse.

    Somehow public discourse shifted toward anecdotal evidences and away from principles & reason, and has become heavily punctuated with defamatory, dismissive, divisive, and derogatory personal attacks. Witness the relatively innocent “Joe the Plumber” who was smeared beyond belief for one question to a US Senator on the campaign trail in 2008.

    But I was surprised to see you link the Hagel nomination with the future of the Republican Party. That political entity is in vast disarray and will probably go the way of the Whigs. We need to look into the future more deeply about the future of people who find some values in the Republican Pary, and learn ways to help shape its replacement.

    Thanks for writing so well, and presenting your thoughts in an adult & serious way. Very refreshing.

  8. Great piece, Susan. It occurs to me the professed reasons of the opposition are entirely bogus, a smokescreen, to hide their core concerns. Hagel is seen as not simply unreliable by the permanent war crowd and the military- industrial complex, but as a powerful force of opposition to their long grip on U.S. defense and foreign policy. This nomination is a real threat and must be stopped. The debate should be about this, not the peripheral issues raised thus far.

  9. Bravissimo Susan !!!!
    Brilliant, profoundly truthful way to start the New Year commentaries!
    As more and more light is shed on the GOP…and their tactics…America has had ENOUGH!
    (so has the rest of the planet…) they got it a long time ago….many of us have watched- in horror- all of this transition over the many years…just amazing…
    Again, Ike was right…and his Grandaughter is wonderful!
    Thanks Susan !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  10. Michele D Ross – Ms. Eisenhower is as usual – on point and totally correct! I wish President Obama would ask her to provide her wise counsel- since she and Chuck Hagel clearly represent what it means to be a truly intelligent PATRIOT of the first order!!!!

  11. Reblogged this on The ObamaCrat.Com™ and commented:
    Great Post Ms. Eisenhower, thank you for using common sense, logic & critical thinking about politics. A welcome escape from fanatical nonsense of the opposition (Grand Obstructionist Party).

  12. Bravo, Susan–such a well reasoned approach and thank you for rising to the defense of a great American and one of most respected men in public life today.

  13. I followed closely the meetings of the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future which was charged with finding ways to deal nuclear reactor waste and other high-level radioactive waste and observed that Chuck Hagel’s attendance record was poor. Both his attendance record and his participation record can be checked as there are transcripts of all of the public meetings. This was a disappointment to me as I feel that it is an important problem which thus far has not been dealt with. Nuclear energy does not produce gases that contribute to climate change and global warming. Failure to solve the nuclear waste disposal problem is one of the factors that is cooling down a nuclear renaissance.

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