Liddick: Advise & consent at the Hagel horror show
February 11, 2013
…he shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint …other Public Ministers and Consuls…”Colorado’s two senators better do some advising, pronto. The administration has nominated for Secretary of Defense former Sen. Chuck Hagel, possibly the least competent, least prepared, least nimble Presidential nominee since Albert Fall. Or maybe, Bert Lance.For those not addicted to politics, Sen. Hagel’s confirmation hearing could charitably be categorized as a horror show. Asked about potential United States reaction to an Iran which has recently announced its intention to further ramp up efforts to develop weapons-grade uranium enrichment – in defiance of International sanctions – the candidate for defense secretary couldn’t get our clearly-stated and oft-repeated policy straight. First, it was “When I voted against some of those unilateral sanctions on Iran, it was a different time.”Then, it was “I support the president’s strong position on containment, as I’ve said.” Earth to Senator Hagel: that’s not US policy. After being informed of this by an aide, the senator settled on “I’ve always said that Iran must not get weapons of mass destruction.”As a last resort, should the US resort to military force to prevent this? “…the military option should remain on the table…” But “I think we’re far smarter to do what the president’s been doing, getting the world community behind us with these U.N. sanctions…” And “I don’t have a problem with engaging. Engagement is not appeasement. Engagement is not surrender. Especially if engaging a “legitimate, elected government” like that in Tehran. Little wonder Iran’s semi-official news organization supports his candidacy.Speaking of the use of force, one should remember that Senator Hagel opposed the 30,000-troop “surge” in Iraq in 2007, which brought a good measure of quiet to that troubled country. It was an important accomplishment, despite its results being squandered by both Washington and Baghdad. It is telling that, even now the president’s nominee cannot bring himself to admit that just possibly, he was wrong on that one. A bad augury for the future of our armed forces and their mission. Nor is that all.Senator Hagel adamantly and vocally opposed the “surge” in Afghanistan, calling it, among other things, “not sustainable at all.” “I think,” he has remarked, “we’re marking time as we slaughter more young people…” This may be an understandable position for someone who served in Vietnam, but it is a little curious in the person chosen to manage the Federal department designed principally to smash things and kill people.Then again, Sen. Hagel said in a September 2011 interview with the Financial Times that “The Defense Department, I think in many ways has been bloated….” so perhaps there’s no contradiction between his mission phobia and the real reason he’s being nominated. A Republican can far more plausibly carve Defense up like a Christmas turkey, so that the President’s social spending programs can be further fattened. If a Democrat were in charge, there might be those nasty accusations of being “soft on defense.” This way, there’s political cover.Asked in his hearings about his remarks on the “Jewish lobby” and what he has categorized as Israel’s control over our Middle Eastern foreign and military policies, he floundered. Most of his problematic comments are old, but there are several recent statements documented by former Middle East negotiator Aaron David Miller in his 2008 book, including “The political reality is that you intimidate… the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here.” Think what you will about our relationship with Israel, this sort of talk is not especially helpful.Which is the crux of the nominee’s problem. Although a majority of Americans probably wouldn’t care if the President nominated Tinker Bell as Defense Secretary, people elsewhere actually take us seriously. Perhaps they shouldn’t, but they do. And they expect us to take ourselves the same way, which is why the buttoned-down, boring bloviator John Kerry is a good bet at State, but the bluntly outspoken Chuck Hagel is an incident waiting to happen at defense. It’s time for Colorado’s two senators to tell the boss that his nominee just won’t do. Others are paying attention, so it behooves us to choose wisely rather than simply to fall in line.The boss won’t like hearing such talk. This president, whose monomania for getting things his own way, and whose Manichean view of political opponents as enemies to be demonized and obliterated hasn’t been seen since the days of Richard Nixon, is not someone who takes contradiction well. Expect tantrums, then threats. But hear it he must, so call Sens. Udall and Bennett, and tell them to give their advice, not their consent.Summit County resident Morgan Liddick pens a Tuesday column. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.