President Obama stuck to his guns and nominated Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense setting the stage for a bipartisan nomination fight. As noted in a previous post, some who opposed the nomination are continuing to smear him with unfounded and despicable charges of antisemitism. Of those limiting objections to policy differences, the criticism of choice is that his views are far out of the mainstream of American thought on Foreign Policy:
Senator Lindsey Graham on CNN's "State of the Union":
“I like Chuck Hagel,” Graham began. “He served with distinguish in Vietnam as an enlisted man — two Purple Hearts. But quite frankly, Chuck Hagel is out of the mainstream of thinking, I believe, on most issues regarding foreign policy."Bill Kristol:
"In any case, Friedman confirms that on Israel as well, Hagel's views place him out of the policy-making mainstream. Tom Friedman came to praise Chuck Hagel. He may have ended up burying him."Jennifer Rubin
"He is far out of the mainstream of both parties on everything from Russian anti-Semitism to Hamas to Iran sanctions."This criticism reminds me of another time that Chuck Hagel was thinking "out of the mainstream" of Foreign Policy thought. On February 20, 2003 Chuck Hagel spoke at the Landon Lecture Series at the University of Kansas. It is instructive to consider what constituted "mainstream thought" at that moment in time.
Four months before his speech, on October 11 Chuck Hagel voted for the "Joint Resolution to Authorize the Use of United States Armed Forces Against Iraq". As did Joe Biden, John Kerry, Hillary Clinton and 77 Senators and 296 Representatives in Congress. There were many good reasons to vote for that resolution including a reasonable hope that it would signal Saddam Hussein that the United Statess was serious, would lead to a negotiated settlement and/or stimulate additional action out of the UN.
Three weeks prior to Hagel's lecture, on January 28 President Bush said this in his State of the Union Address:
"From three Iraqi defectors we know that Iraq, in the late 1990s, had several mobile biological weapons labs. These are designed to produce germ warfare agents, and can be moved from place to a place to evade inspectors. Saddam Hussein has not disclosed these facilities. He's given no evidence that he has destroyed them. The International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed in the 1990s that Saddam Hussein had an advanced nuclear weapons development program, had a design for a nuclear weapon and was working on five different methods of enriching uranium for a bomb. The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa. Our intelligence sources tell us that he has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes suitable for nuclear weapons production."15 days earlier, on February 5 Secretary of State Colin Powell said this addressing the United Nations:
"We know that Saddam’s son, Qusay, ordered the removal of all prohibited weapons from Saddam's numerous palace complexes... we know from sources that a missile brigade outside Baghdad was disbursing rocket launchers and warheads containing biological warfare agents to various locations, distributing them to various locations in western Iraq... We have firsthand descriptions of biological weapons factories on wheels and on rails... We know that Iraq has at least seven of these mobile biological agent factories."On the same day that Chuck Hagel was speaking at Kansas State, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said this in an interview with Jim Lehrer on PBS:
In the same timeframe 72% of Americans thought the decision to invade Iraq was the right decision.Lehrer: "Do you expect the invasion, if it comes, to be welcomed by the majority of the civilian population of Iraq?"Rumsfeld: "... There is no question but that they would be welcomed. Go back to Afghanistan, the people were in the streets playing music, cheering, flying kites, and doing all the things that the Taliban and the Al-Qaeda would not let them do."
That was mainstream thinking when Chuck Hagel gave this lecture at Kansas State University on "America's Purpose in the World":
Including the longish introduction and Q&A the lecture is a little under an hour. It's worth your time, but as an alternative - some excerpts:
"As we consider our next steps in Iraq, we cannot lose sight of the wider lens view of what is before us, that this is about much more than Iraq. We are setting the tone for Americas's role in the world for the next decade and beyond. At this critical time, our policies and our rhetoric should not create distance between America and her allies. If that is the price of waging war in Iraq, then victory, in the long run, in the war on terrorism, in the Middle East, on the Korean peninsula, and against weapons of mass destruction, will not be ours."
"Today, America stands nearly alone in proclaiming the urgency of the use of force to disarm Saddam Hussein. In Europe and in many corners of the globe, America is perceived as determined to use force in Iraq to the exclusion of world opinion or the interests of our allies, even those allies who share our concerns about Saddam Hussein's weapons programs. America must balance its determination with patience and not be seen as in a rush to war."
"The diplomatic challenges before us should not weaken our resolve to obtain a second UN resolution that threatens serious consequences for Iraq's continued defiance of UN resolutions. While time may be short, the diplomatic option has not yet played out. it will take more hard work, and the military option should remain on the table. The world has additional time, and we should not short-circuit what has begun through legitimate United Nations channels. This responsible course will maximize the force of world opinion and bring it to our side."
"Iraq cannot be considered in a vacuum, detached from the politics and culture of both its region and the Muslim world. Using military force to disarm Saddam Hussein will bring change to Iraq and to the region, but we cannot foresee the nature of that change. What comes after Saddam Hussein? The uncertainties of a post-Saddam, post-conflict Middle East should give us pause, encourage prudence, and force us to recognize the necessity of coalitions in seeing it through."
"A conspicuous American occupation force in Iraq or in any Arab or Muslim country would only fuel anti-Americanism, nationalism and resentment. By working through the United Nations, America will neutralize the accusations that a war in Iraq is anti-Muslim or driven by oil or American imperialism."
Three weeks later, on March 16 Vice President Dick Cheney had this to say on Meet The Press:"What distinguishes America is not our power, for the world has known great power. It is America's purpose and our commitment to making a better life for all people. That is the America the world needs to see. A wise, thoughtful and steady nation, worthy of its power, generous of spirit, and humble in its purpose."
RUSSERT: “Imperialist power,” “moving willy-nilly,” “taking down governments.” Is that how we’re going to be perceived this time?CHENEY: "My belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators... "
RUSSERT: "...What do you think is the most important rationale for going to war with Iraq?"CHENEY: Well, I think I’ve just given it, Tim, in terms of the combination of his development and use of chemical weapons, his development of biological weapons, his pursuit of nuclear weapons... We know that based on intelligence that he has been very, very good at hiding these kinds of efforts. He’s had years to get good at it and we know he has been absolutely devoted to trying to acquire nuclear weapons.And we believe he has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons.
RUSSERT: The army’s top general said that we would have to have several hundred thousand troops there for several years in order to maintain stability.CHENEY: I disagree. We need, obviously, a large force and we’ve deployed a large force. To prevail, from a military standpoint, to achieve our objectives, we will need a significant presence there until such time as we can turn things over to the Iraqis themselves. But to suggest that we need several hundred thousand troops there after military operations cease, after the conflict ends, I don’t think is accurate. I think that’s an overstatement.
MR. RUSSERT: Every analysis said this war itself would cost about $80 billion, recovery of Baghdad, perhaps of Iraq, about $10 billion per year. We should expect as American citizens that this would cost at least $100 billion for a two-year involvement.CHENEY: I can’t say that, Tim. There are estimates out there. It’s important, though, to recognize that we’ve got a different set of circumstances than we’ve had in Afghanistan. In Afghanistan you’ve got a nation without significant resources. In Iraq you’ve got a nation that’s got the second-largest oil reserves in the world, second only to Saudi Arabia. It will generate billions of dollars a year in cash flow if they get back to their production of roughly three million barrels of oil a day, in the relatively near future. And that flow of resources, obviously, belongs to the Iraqi people, needs to be put to use by the Iraqi people for the Iraqi people and that will be one of our major objectives.
One month after Hagel spoke the United States launched the "Shock and Awe" bombing of Baghdad initiating an eight year occupation and military presence in Iraq costing $1 Trillion+, 12,000+ American deaths, and 30,000+ American wounded.
Chuck Hagel was clearly out of the mainstream of thinking on foreign policy and the Iraq occupation on February 20, 2003. He was right and mainstream group-think was wrong.
Chuck Hagel did not hesitate to publicly say what he believed, even if it contradicted his party and president on the eve of war, and was outside of "mainstream thinking". And that is exactly why Chuck Hagel is a great choice for Secretary of Defense today.
The criticism of his views on Israel and Iran are grossly exaggerated. The Senate confirmation hearing will give him an opportunity to correct the record and give the country an opportunity to have a grown-up dialogue about American policy to Iran, Palestine, and the size of the defense budget. At which point he should be confirmed.