Special Update: Hagel Nomination Represents Progressive, Centrist, Realist Convergence On Key Challenges

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Special Update: Hagel Nomination Represents Progressive, Centrist, Realist Convergence On Key Challenges

Today President Obama nominated former Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel to be the next secretary of defense.  Hagel is a decorated Vietnam veteran; a former official in the Veterans Administration and the USO; and a two-term Senator from Nebraska. He would be the first enlisted soldier to lead the Pentagon. The political firestorm around him, typified by Senator Lindsay Graham’s (R-SC) recent comment that Senator Hagel’s views are “really out of the mainstream,” couldn’t be farther from the mark: Hagel’s views have widespread support from experts across the political spectrum, diplomats, military leaders and the public alike.  Sen. Hagel’s nomination has received very broad support, across party lines, from the defense and foreign policy community – and the issues under contention will be some of the key challenges faced by the country as a whole.

On several key challenges, Hagel’s positions point to a convergence among progressives, centrist, realists and military professionals:

Pentagon spending: Reshape spending to cut fat and focus on future threats. As Slate Columnist Fred Kaplan observes, “it is true that Hagel once said the defense budget was ‘bloated’ with unnecessary items. Does anyone doubt this is true? Even if sequestration is avoided, the military services are coming in for some cuts, maybe some drastic ones. That always happens after a war, and with good reason; the money spent on those wars is no longer needed. The baseline military budget (excluding the costs of the wars) amounts to $525 billion. Adjusting for inflation, that’s only 7 percent less than what Ronald Reagan spent on defense at the peak of the Cold War—a time when massive Soviet tank armies were poised on the East-West German border and a nuclear arms race was spiraling out of control. It’s hard to argue that we need more money for defense than we spent back then. We still face threats, but not the kinds of threats requiring massive sums on fighter aircraft, tanks, submarines, and nukes.” [Fred Kaplan, 1/6/13]

Preventing a nuclear-armed Iran requires shrewd diplomacy; security leaders oppose a rush to use force. Hagel’s view on Iran is supported by a host of foreign policy luminaries, including Brent Scowcroft, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Richard L. Armitage, Gen. Anthony C. Zinni, and Leslie H. Gelb, among others, who issued a report on U.S. options on Iran. The report explains that, “military action probably would reduce the possibility of reaching a more permanent political resolution of concerns about Iran’s nuclear program. In fact, we believe that a U.S. attack on Iran would increase Iran’s motivation to build a bomb, because 1) the Iranian leadership would become more convinced than ever that regime change is the goal of U.S. policy, and 2) building a bomb would be seen as a way to inhibit future attacks and redress the humiliation of being attacked.” [Iran Project, 9/13/12]

Middle East Peace Process: The American mainstream is pro-peace and pro-Israel. Responding to critics who have called Sen. Hagel anti-Israel and even anti-Semitic, Peter Joseph and David Halperin of the Israel Policy Forum discuss Senator Hagel’s remarks to IPF in 2008: “None of his remarks to us suggested he is anti-Israel or anti-Semitic. Far from it…  But as they were outlined in his IPF address in 2008, his ideas are not outside the mainstream. His statement that ‘The United States cannot impose peace in the Middle East, but I don’t believe any way you come at this, there will be peace in the Middle East without the United States,’ is exactly right.” They add, “His description of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as the ‘strategic epicenter’ of the Middle East have been subsequently reflected by CENTCOM chief General James Mattis, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, former CIA Director General David Petraeus and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who have all similarly identified resolving the Arab-Israeli dispute as critical for advancing regional stability and American interests. None of this should be considered dangerous for the United States or the State of Israel.” [Peter Joseph and David Halperin, 1/7/12]

Utilizing shrewd diplomacy and engagement: in line with what Americans want from foreign policy. As did the last two Secretaries of Defense, Democrat Leon Panetta and Republican Bob Gates, Hagel favors a prominent role for diplomacy in American national security policy. He has stated, “The worst thing we can do, the most dangerous thing we can do is continue to isolate nations, is continue to not engage nations.” A recent public opinion study by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs revealed widespread support for the primacy of diplomacy: “Americans are now less likely to support the use of force in many circumstances and are more likely to endorse spending cutbacks, including on defense. As always, if force is necessary, there is a preference for multilateral rather than unilateral approaches…Americans are broadly supportive of nonmilitary forms of international engagement and problem solving, ranging from diplomacy, alliances, and international treaties to economic aid and decision making through the UN.” [Chuck Hagel via Foreign Policy, 12/4/08. Chicago Council, 9/12/12]

These positions and support for Hagel’s nomination have gained near unanimous support from the foreign policy and defense communities:

Nine ambassadors, including five former ambassadors to Israel: “We support, most strongly and without qualification, President Obama’s reported intention to nominate  Senator Chuck Hagel to be the next secretary of defense. Each of us has known the senator over the past  twenty years and has found him invariably one of the best informed leaders in the US Congress on the  issues of U.S. national security. Senator Hagel’s credentials for the job are impeccable…  He has always supported the pillars of American foreign policy – such as: a strong NATO and Atlantic partnership; a commitment to the security of Israel, as a friend and ally; a determination to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons; and the defense of human rights as a core principle of America’s role in the world.” [Ambassadors’ Letter, 12/20/12]

Eleven Retired Generals and Admirals: “As former Generals and Admirals from the Army, Air Force, Marines and Navy, we are certain that Senator Hagel would be a strong leader in the Pentagon. Senator Hagel is eminently qualified for the job. He is a decorated Vietnam veteran, a successful businessman, a leader in Ronald Reagan’s Veteran’s Administration and, since his election to the Senate in 1996, one the country’s leading voices on foreign policy. He would bring a long-term strategic vision to the job and to the President’s Cabinet… Senator Hagel has been a voice of moderation and balance in an unbalanced time, and we can think of few people better qualified to lead the Department of Defense.” [Generals and Admirals’ letter, 12/21/12]

A bipartisan group including Reagan administration Defense Secretary Frank Carlucci; former National Security Advisors Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski; former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker; former Senator Gary Hart (D-CO); and former CENTCOM Commander Admiral William Fallon: “We write to you, Mr. President, in support of Senator Hagel because we believe our polarized political life is much in need of leaders with the kind of bipartisanship and independence of conscience and mind that Chuck Hagel’s service to our country has exemplified.” [Bipartisan Group letter, 12/12]

Ryan Crocker, former ambassador to Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as Lebanon, Kuwait, Syria, and Pakistan:  “Chuck Hagel is a statesman, and America has few of them. He knows the leaders of the world and their issues. At a time when bipartisanship is hard to find in Washington, he personifies it. Above all, he has an unbending focus on U.S. national security, from his service in Vietnam decades ago to his current position on the Intelligence Advisory Council. Mr. Hagel would run the Defense Department; it would not run him. And as America’s wars abroad wind down, it is clear from his record of service to veterans—and his own experience as one of them—that they would receive the support they deserve after they have put their lives on the line for the country.” [Ryan Crocker, 1/1/13]

NSN Senior Advisor and Major General (ret) Paul Eaton: “We have a history of presidents crossing party lines in building Cabinets to achieve crucial goals. President Franklin D. Roosevelt needed a strong Republican and manager to pave the way into World War II and rapidly expand our armed forces. Enter Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson, decorated combat soldier and a great selection for a bipartisan team. For different reasons today, we would benefit from a moderate and a distinguished leader who needs no apprenticeship, who just happens to be a war hero and has a proven record of working across the aisle to get things done. Enter Hagel – as comfortable with generals as with the enlisted infantry he led in Vietnam.” [Paul Eaton, 1/4/12]

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