Once upon a time not that long ago, John McCain, Chuck Hagel, and Lindsay Graham were the best of buddies.
Not quite the trio amigos but, pretty doggone close.
Though McCain denies it, he tossed Hagel aside after Chuck dared to challenge President Bush on the Iraq War. Unlike many in the Senate at the time (who eventually made passionate comments about the failures associated with the “conduct of the war,” rather than the necessity of the war), Hagel made a public break with the Administration he had previously supported.
It was a gutsy call – by a gutsy guy.
Hagel is the archetypical Vietnam Vet: he’s courageous, passionate, smart – and at times a little hard to “manage” because he learned to survive in a culture where people (even veterans from previous wars) couldn’t be trusted.
As a veteran of Afghanistan and Iraq I am grateful for all the Vietnam Era veterans: they sacrificed abroad in an ugly war – returning to a nation divided over the meaning and purpose of the war that most Americans never had to fight.
Hagel can be abrasive. He is a man of his times and as such, subject to the very same “evolutions” of perspective with regards to sexual orientation as the nation he bled (twice) for. And yet, he is a man that can learn – a leader that is unafraid to admit an error and then press forward in pursuit of an important objective.
Let’s be clear: Chuck Hagel is not, would never be, my choice for US Secretary of Defense. I am frustrated by the perception that Republicans need to hold that post. I get the politics: “only Nixon could go to China… only a Republican can challenge the defense complex…” but it is a fig leaf more than anything else.
However, Chuck Hagel is the person President Obama wants in that position. And that is sufficient for me. President Obama believes Hagel an indispensible part of his vision for the coming restructuring of the US Department of Defense.
Chuck Hagel is a current member of the President’s Intelligence Advisory Council, a two-term former US Senator, CEO (and self-make businessman), and a decorated Vietnam combat veteran. Say what you want about his personality – but there is no question he is supremely qualified to serve.
In Washington DC alliances shifts with the tide of political fortune. McCain, Graham, and the supposed replacement to Lieberman in the band – Senator Kelly Ayotte) have determined that Hagel must not be confirmed as SECDEF.
This tragic farce will end badly for them.
For a while, McCain and Graham have sustained a unique place in American politics. They have been perceived by many as a voice of reason on national defense issues: until the 2012 Presidential Campaign these men (and their sidekick) were often afforded special privilege and deference within the media.
The blatant skullduggery employed against Susan Rice - and now Chuck Hagel - weakens their standing and will likely showcase them as little more than political hacks hell-bent on revenge.
In the end, the truth will reveal itself.
Chuck Hagel is a lot of things: conservative, intelligent, opinionated, and perhaps – even a little opportunist (he is a politician after all).
And there is little doubt that some are justifiably weary of him: especially if you are gay, a member of AIPAC, or a NeoCon pushing for another war – this time in Iran.
But there is no reason – NONE – to question his qualifications to serve as US Secretary of Defense. Anyone that suggests it (especially those seeking to derail it) is either a liar or stupid.
Please note: for veterans’ the imagery of well-dressed, well-healed non-veteran “pretenders” (the folks that never served when they were young, but now claim a self-identified “expertise” on foreign affairs and national defense policy) looking into the camera and telling us with straight-faces that someone like Hagel should not serve because of a lack of “qualifications” is dark comedy.
It is helpful to review what we know about the “experts” on the Hill:
Senator Kelly Ayotte (never served – but married to a veteran).
Saxby Chambliss (draft dodger).
John Cornyn (draft dodger).
Ted Cruz (didn’t serve either).
David Vetter (yes, the same guy caught with a prostitute, didn’t serve).
And the unelected “Republican heavy-weights” (aka the universe of talking heads that defend the Republican talking points):
Sean Hannity (draft dodger).
William Kristol (draft dodger).
Rush Limbaugh (draft dodger).
Bill O’Reilly (draft dodger).
Reince Priebus (RNC Chair, never served).
Karl Rove (draft dodger).
Former Vice-President Cheney (draft dodger).
McCain and Graham both served – with distinction and valor – but both of these guys feel personally betrayed by their “friend” because of the timing of his opinions on the war. In their hearts, they know (and have actually said in the past) that Chuck Hagel is an experienced leader that could serve well.
Their egos (and passions) are failing them on this one.
Truth be told, the entire Senate Republican Conference knows that Hagel is qualified to serve. They just don’t want him in a position to do the kinds of things Obama wants done.
This nomination fight will be more sizzle than steak: Chuck Hagel will be the SECDEF and the irony of this entire dark comedy is that he will be stronger as a result of the confirmation fight.
What the pretenders do not know, cannot know – chose not to learn – is that compared to walking point in a combat zone, a “fight for a nomination” is an easy day…
The President made his choice. The US Senate has a responsibility to render advice and consent (or non-consent – if warranted).
Opponents to Hagel’s nomination should have the integrity to cast off the rhetorical justifications for their motives and be honest: they don’t’ want Hagel because they know just how effective he could be – and they don’t want that.
The next time the pretenders stand for the pledge of allegiance with their hand over their hearts they should pause for a moment and consider this: every time Chuck Hagel says the pledge, he can still feel the shrapnel buried in the tissue surrounding his heart – he carries knowledge of what war is and does – with him everywhere he goes.
Service in uniform isn’t and should never be a litmus test for public service – people can and must find ways to invest their individual talent, time, and treasure however best they can.
But when I go to a hospital for surgery – I prefer to have a trained surgeon performing the operation.
We need a well prepared war chief: a veteran that understands what cannot be taught in books.
Perhaps it is time we had more leaders like Hagel, not less. Perhaps it is helpful to have men and women that know the horrors of war making decisions associated with starting, waging, and ending them.
Perhaps it is time we put aside the false patriotism so familiar to the pretenders in order to make rational choices about peace – and war.
Like him or hate him, Chuck Hagel is more than qualified for the job.