Obama should make Chuck Hagel our Secretary of Defense

Having lofted Chuck Hagel’s trial balloon for Secretary of Defense, and having taken political fire for it, President Obama needs to move forward with that nomination and make it a key test for his administration to get Chuck Hagel confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

President Obama can’t afford the political cost of backing down again in the face of partisan criticism of his favored nominee, as he did with Susan Rice, whom he had planned to name successor to Hillary Clinton for Secretary of State. Having failed thus far to achieve any sort of grand bargain on the budget deficit, and with the prospects for gun control he promised after the Sandy Hook massacre uncertain at best, the President needs to take a stand on something that he should and can win.

Chuck Hagel will be a great Secretary of Defense. He’s a combat veteran of Vietnam where he attained the rank of sergeant and received two Purple Hearts, later earning his college degree on the GI Bill. This is important because he knows first-hand the human cost of war.

A lifelong Republican, he campaigned for Ronald Reagan, and served briefly in the Veterans Administration under President Reagan until resigning over policy and budget differences. He became a successful businessman, and then achieved political success serving from 1997 to 2009, as a popular United States Senator from Nebraska, keeping the two-term pledge he made in his first campaign.

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From 2005 to the end of his term in the Senate, Hagel was the most outspoken Republican critic of the Bush administration’s military intervention in Iraq. Since 2009 he has served as Chairperson of President Obama’s Intelligence Advisory Board and as a Distinguished Professor at the School of Foreign Service of Georgetown University.

Many of Hagel’s fellow Republicans have never forgiven his criticism of the Bush administration’s war in Iraq. They charge him now with being soft on Iran or insufficiently supportive of Israel. He is neither. But by experience he is skeptical of the kind of provocative, interventionist military action that got us into Vietnam and Iraq.

Hagel also doesn’t regard the Defense Department as a sacred cow. He has publicly described it as “bloated” and suggested it could be “pared down”. Sounds like the taxpayer’s Secretary of Defense to me.

If President Obama is looking for an independent thinker on defense policy, who can manage, lead, and inspire the military and its civilian staff, Chuck Hagel is a great candidate. And as long as he enjoys the President’s confidence, the President should put some of his political capital on the line to see his choice for the critical position of Secretary of Defense confirmed.

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