Does Chuck Hagel command your confidence?

According to the Times of London, Barack Obama has “tipped” Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel to be his Secretary of Defense. Supposedly, Hegel would be part of a group of “high-profile appointments who would command the confidence of the country at such a troubled time.” Other names being tossed around are John Kerry (Secretary of State) and Larry Summers (Secretary of Treasury).

Hagel, of course, is a Republcan and thus his selection could be peddled as a case of “reaching across” the aisle. He would also be a good fit for Obama in several respects. First, as Ed Lasky reminds us, Hagel opposed the troop surge in Iraq. Like Obama, Hagel was content to see the U.S. take a humiliating defeat in a war with, among other enemies, al Qaeda. Like Obama, he was unwilling even to try a strategy that, as things stand now, has averted that defeat. In an Obama administration, Hagel could serve as the point man for the implementation of a strategy that would risk squandering the gains we have made thanks to the strategy Obama and Hagel rejected. Given Hagel’s record, however, it’s doubtful that having him on board would co-opt critics and create unity.

Second, as Lasky also shows, Hagel is a good fit with Obama because of his consistent unwillingness to support action against the enemies of the U.S. and Israel in the Middle East. For example, in 2004 Hagel was one of only two Senators (Obama’s friend Sen. Lugar was the other) to vote against renewal of the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act, which helps deny Iran and Libya money to spend on supporting terror or acquiring weapons of mass destruction. A year earlier, Hagel had declined (along with Sen. Kerry) to vote for the Syria Accountability Act authorizing sanctions on Syria for its support of terrorism and its occupation of Lebanon. 89 Senators voted in favor. And in 2001, Hagel declined to sign a letter (signed by 87 Senators) urging President Bush not to invite Yassar Arafat to a meeting with high-ranking U.S. officials in Washington.

Third, Hagel has argued that the U.S. is too supportive of Israel, and he has attacked the “Jewish lobby.” As we have frequently pointed out, Obama has surrounded himself with advisers who share this view, most notably Samantha Power, his leading foreign policy adviser and confidant, until she was forced out of the campaign for calling Hillary Clinton a “monster”.

In a way, though, Hagel would make too perfect a member of Obama’s cabinet. I doubt that Obama would put such a high profile critic of Israel in charge (even nominally) of the Pentagon. Instead, I expect the impetus for the tilt away from Israel to come from lower profile individuals serving in less prominent position.

Moreover, the Pentagon is huge and difficult bureaucracy. I may be giving Obama too much credit, but I see him appointing a more capable, intelligent Secretary of Defense.

JOHN adds: It’s hard to say which will bring Obama more votes: Colin Powell’s endorsement, or the prospect of Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense. I’d guess that neither will have much impact outside of the immediate Powell and Hagel families.

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