Political Animal


January 13, 2013 3:26 PM The Hagel Wars

By Adele Stan

When President Barack Obama began floating the name of Republican Chuck Hagel, the former U.S. senator from Nebraska, to replace Leon Panetta as secretary of defense, the Washington punditocracy scratched its collective head, asking why would Obama pick a fight with Republicans over SecDef, when he had more important fights looming over the sequester and the debt ceiling?

But, really, isn’t that just the point of the Hagel nomination?

In nominating the iconoclastic Republican, loathed as he is by the Republican right and the Iraq-warmongers known as neocons, Obama guaranteed an unseemly drama that will unfold before the American people, just as machinations get underway on the nation’s fiscal future.

Republicans will be seen attacking one of their own, one whose name was put forward by the president, bless his soul, as a gesture of bipartisanship. And the beauty of it is that Hagel is a war hero, wounded in Viet Nam, who still has shrapnel in his chest from an attack that earned him one of his two purple hearts.

The Hagel wars increased in intensity today on the Sunday morning talk shows, where former Secretary of State Colin Powell issued a spirited defense of the Nebraskan on NBC’s Meet the Press, and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., himself a former prisoner of war, took to the airwaves of CBS, to argue against his former Senate colleague on Face the Nation.

Then Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., popped up on ABC’s This Week to intone darkly about Hagel’s temperament. From a recap by Brian Knowlton at the New York Times Web site:

Mr. Corker, who is not on the Armed Services Committee and said that he did not know Mr. Hagel well, offered little elaboration. But he said that there were “numbers of staffers who are coming forth now just talking about the way he has dealt with them.” He was speaking on the ABC News program “This Week.”
Mr. Corker’s seemed to suggest that he considered Mr. Hagel - who has a reputation for speaking his mind - overbearing or erratic.

Hagel has at times put his ignorance on display, as when he described proposals for allowing LGB people to serve openly in the armed forces as “a social experiment,” or referred to pro-Israel lobbying groups as “the Jewish lobby.”

These have given opponents fodder for opposition, although most LGBT leaders forgave Hagel after he apologized for his “social experiment” remarks, and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC — perhaps the largest pro-Israel lobbying group — has declined to attack Hagel on the grounds of those remarks.

Hagel’s most vociferous detractors are the architects of the Iraq war waged under President George W. Bush. Although Hagel voted to authorize the president to invade Iraq, the former senator soon became a critic of the war, using his own wartime experience as a source of moral authority on such matters. From today’s NYT article by Jim Rutenberg:

In the bitter debate that led up to the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska said that some of his fellow Republicans, in their zest for war, lacked the perspective of veterans like him, who have “sat in jungles or foxholes and watched their friends get their heads blown off.”

As the Hagel drama commences, I wonder just how much Obama cares whether, ultimately, Hagel makes it through the nomination process. The optics of the battle are enough to do the job for which the Hagel nomination may have been intended.


  • c u n d gulag on January 13, 2013 4:15 PM:

    You know, I ain't exactly sure that this is that 11th Dimensional Chess I kept hearing about - but, it might yet prove to be at least 4th, or 5th Dimensional Chess!

    Keep makin' 'em look bad, Barack - not that they need any help.

  • bigtuna on January 13, 2013 4:53 PM:

    I read the NYT article, and all I can think is - - why are these guys - Kristol, etc., all the so called architects of the Iraq war, even being listened to? Yet another sign of the great disfunction of the Rs that these clowns even speak anymore.

  • Rick B on January 13, 2013 6:15 PM:


    It's my opinion that these so-called architects are being listened to because they (1) have the captive right-wing media to spread their message (Kristol is funded, I understand, by Rupert Murdoch) and (2) the rest of the mainstream media strives for balance (without independent analysis) instead of the truth.

    The media in this case is especially the Sunday lie talk shows. They call these guys up to get the "balance" they so desire.

    I only just realized this.

  • Rick B on January 13, 2013 6:17 PM:

    Ah. Not taking the strike-thru HTML I tried to put around "lie." Oh well.

  • Col Bat Guano on January 13, 2013 6:32 PM:

    Nice slander there by Corker "Oh yeah, there are some anonymous staffers who said bad things about him." Hey, Senator Corker, I've heard you have had unnatural relations with a goat.

  • rrk1 on January 13, 2013 6:34 PM:

    Obama is far too cautious to be playing a cavalier game with these nominations. The stakes are high in the Hagel nomination especially, higher than in any of the others: Kerry, Brennan, Lew.

    Just look at the trog neocons who have suddenly forsaken their caves to attack Hagel, one of their own: Kristol, Abrams, Pearle Bolton. Where are Cheney and Rumsfeld? Why would Obama want to lose to this vermin?

    Then there's Netanyahoo and AIPAC. Hagel's nomination is definitely part payback for Yahoo's support of Romney. Obama can't lose this one or else he castrates himself and further empowers the Israeli lobby's stranglehold on Congress.

    The Hagel nomination is brilliant. Obama needs a Republican to tear up the defense budget, which has to happen, and in Hagel he has someone he knows, and obviously trusts, after having him as a defense advisor. Plus he has the Rethugs chewing up one of their own.

    Obama certainly hasn't demonstrated any cahones in the past, and obviously is willing to negotiate away lots of what the left holds sacred, but it looks like he may hold his ground here because in part it's personal.

  • emjayay on January 13, 2013 7:24 PM:

    I do hope Hagel has done a 180 on gay issues. His statement so far was a bit weak. He will be questioned on this in the Senate hearings.

    But it's a Nixon in China deal. A Democrat couldn't have done it at that time. A Democrat can't preside over trimming the absurd amount we spend on the War Department. At least I hope that's what this is in part about.

  • Kathryn on January 13, 2013 8:00 PM:

    Nobody deserves a stick in the eye more than Netanyahu, that display during Romney's disasterous overseas trip was nauseating, the buddy, buddy act, Adelson, the fund raising, Dan Senor, and so on. I totally disagree that this nomination is just to show what jerks the Republican senators are, though it will. IMO, very few Americans identify with the neo com views and want no more war and while Israel is widely supported, we are separate nations and should not be in lockstep, just another reason to be grateful Mitt Romney did not win.

  • Ron Byers on January 13, 2013 10:41 PM:

    It is interesting that the Hagel nomination draws attention to the defense budget, the reduction of which Hagel is expected to champion. By attacking Hagel the Republican mouthpieces for Military Industrial Complex seem to be interested in fighting the first battle before the new Secretary is named.

    Obama welcomes the fight because (1) he needs a secretary of defense who is not opposed to cutting the billions upon billions we are wasting on defense, and (2) he wants to draw attention to the bloat in the budget. As time goes by we will see that the Hagel nomination fight is part of the sequestration battle.

  • beejeez on January 14, 2013 1:38 AM:

    I like Hagel's chances at being a good SecDef, but I like just as much the political angles of his appointment, the latest of Obama's symbolic demonstrations of willingness to compromise: "Look, y'all, I appointed a Republican and they still fought me tooth and nail! I understand a lot of you don't like me, but how the hell am I supposed to get anything done around here?"

    However frustrated I get about the pace of progressive movement, I'll give the prez this: I can't think of any Democrat who has done more to unravel the persuasiveness of Republican claims to act as public servants in good faith. I know better than to underestimate the GOP's resourcefulness, but I love how it gets harder every day for even the most ardent Obama-haters to muster enthusiasm for his political foes.

  • MuddyLee on January 14, 2013 8:28 AM:

    Bill Kristol has a great work history: worked for VP Dan Quayle, worked to wreck health care reform during the Clinton presidency, had the Weekly Standard call for the invasion of Iraq during the Clinton presidency, supported the invasion of Iraq during the Bush-Cheney administration, brought Sarah Palin out of Alaska and promoted her for the VP nomination. I guess he is incredibly qualified to speak for conservatives regarding the Hagel nomination. How can you be so wrong for so long and still have the MSM giving you air time?