Hagel’s not the right choice for Defense Secretary, says the Washington Post

I like to say that the Washington Post’s editorial page is one of the last bastions of respectable liberalism in America. It’s also the reason why I eventually accepted defeat in our long running family battle over whether to subscribe to the Post.

Today, the Post’s editors come down hard against the idea of nominating Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense. The Post focuses on two vital issues: defense spending and Iran. It concludes that Hagel’s positions on both “fall well to the left of those pursued by Mr. Obama during his first term — and place him near the fringe of the Senate that would be asked to confirm him.”

As to defense spending, the Post observes:

The current secretary, Leon Panetta, has said the defense “sequester” cuts that Congress mandated to take effect Jan. 1 would have dire consequences for U.S. security. Mr. Hagel took a very different position when asked about Mr. Panetta’s comment during a September 2011 interview with the Financial Times. “The Defense Department, I think in many ways, has been bloated,” he responded. “So I think the Pentagon needs to be pared down.”

While both Republicans and Democrats accept that further cuts in defense may be inevitable, few have suggested that a reduction on the scale of the sequester is responsible. In congressional testimony delivered around the same time as Mr. Hagel’s interview, members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said the sequester would lead to “a severe and irreversible impact on the Navy’s future,” “a Marine Corps that’s below the end strength to support even one major contingency” and “an unacceptable level of strategic and operational risk” for the Army.

As to Iran, the Post observes:

[Hagel] repeatedly voted against sanctions, opposing even those aimed at the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, which at the time was orchestrating devastating bomb attacks against U.S. troops in Iraq. Mr. Hagel argued that direct negotiations, rather than sanctions, were the best means to alter Iran’s behavior. The Obama administration offered diplomacy but has turned to tough sanctions as the only way to compel Iran to negotiate seriously.

Mr. Obama has said that his policy is to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and that containment is not an option. Mr. Hagel has taken a different view, writing in a 2008 book that “the genie of nuclear weapons is already out of the bottle, no matter what Iran does.”

The Post acknowledges that Hagel seemed to shift his position on Iran in an op-ed he signed a few months ago. I am working on a post about that op-ed. But the Post is more than fair to Hagel when it concludes:

[President Obama] will need a defense secretary ready to support and effectively implement a decision. . .to contemplate military action if Iran refuses to negotiate or halt its uranium-enrichment program. Perhaps Mr. Hagel would do so; perhaps he would also, if installed at the Pentagon, take a different view of defense spending. (Mr. Hagel declined through a spokesman to speak to us about his views.)

What’s certain is that Mr. Obama has available other possible nominees who are considerably closer to the mainstream and to the president’s first-term policies. . . .

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