Someone seriously needs to explain to Sen. Lindsey Graham that this is the United States of America, not a satellite of Israel. The “Israel right or wrong” crowd tried to paint President Obama as anti-Israel for his pragmatic view of our ally, and now they are trying to do the same thing to Chuck Hagel.
Former Republican Senator Charles Hagel of Nebraska has been nominated as our next Secretary of Defense. During the Vietnam War, one half of the only siblings serving in the same unit during that war (what the hell happened to the Sullivan Act?), Hagel was a Sergeant and an infantry squad leader in the 9th Infantry Division. He received the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry, two Purple Hearts, the Army Commendation Medal and the Combat Infantryman Badge. He also saved his brother’s life, and Tom saved his. Hagel will be the first non-com with combat experience to serve as Secretary of Defense.
From 1969 to 1971, while finishing college, Hagel worked as a radio host in Omaha. He then served as a staff member for Congressman John Y. McCollister until 1977. He was a lobbyist for Firestone for four years and a campaign organizer for Ronald Reagan in 1980.
Reagan named Hagel deputy administrator of the Veterans Administration, but he left that post over disagreements with V. A. Administrator Robert P. Nimmo, who referred to veterans groups as “greedy” and said Agent Orange was not much worse than teenage acne. Agent Orange exposure was a flashpoint between Vietnam veterans who were slowly dying from it and a government that refused to admit culpability for its widespread use.
Hagel spent the next 16 years in the private sector, founding Vanguard Cellular, serving as director of both commercial firms and NGOs. He lived in Virginia for 20 years, and returned to Nebraska in 1992. In 1996, he ran for the open Senate seat from that state. He beat then Governor Ben Nelson for the seat, and won re-election in 2002 with 83% of the vote. Hagel was the first Republican elected to the Senate from Nebraska in 24 years. Ben Nelson was elected to the Senate in 2000, and retired this year. Nebraska has become a very Republican state and Nelson was facing strong challenges from the right wing of the Republican Party, even though his voting record was moderate.
Two controversies are being raised over this appointment. First is Hagel’s history of being a pragmatist over foreign policy. He has been accused of being anti-Israel because he refuses to put Israel’s interests ahead of America’s in dealing with the crisis in the Middle East. Hagel is not willing to give Israel a free pass on antagonizing its neighbors and abusing the residents of the West Bank. He’s the kind of man capable of separating the situation between Israel and the West Bank from the situation between Israel and Gaza.
Second is a remark Hagel made during the confirmation of James Hormel as President Clinton’s appointee as Ambassador to Luxembourg. Hagel called Hormel “openly, agressively gay” and has a consistent “anti-LGBT” voting record during his years in the Senate. Hagel has apologized to Hormel, but Hormel questioned the sincerity of that apology. Frankly, people, can we put this in historical perspective? It was 1998 and Luxembourg is about 90% Roman Catholic, not exactly the most liberal nation in Europe. The Grand Duke at the time, Jean, was a godson of Pope Benedict XV. His family was chockerblock full of old-time Catholic royals. Luxembourg may be technically secular and have guarantees of religious freedom, but that wasn’t really the cultural reality in Grand Duke Jean’s time. Hagel may have been expressing his personal view of gays or he may have been expressing concern for this particular appointment to this particular post. Instead of flat-out attacking him for a 14-year-old statement, he should simply be questioned about the end of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. That’s the only thing that is relevant.
John Brennan was almost nominated to head the CIA four years ago. Brennan was a real-life spy, and a CIA analyst. He provided President Clinton’s daily intelligence briefings. In 1996, he was appointed CIA station chief in Saudi Arabia. In 1999, Brennan became chief-of-staff to CIA Director George Tenet and deputy executive director in 2001. In 2003 and 2004, he was director of the Terrorist Trehat Integration Center and directed the work of analysts from dozens of intelligence services. After two years with the National Counterterrorism Center, he left the government in 2005 for the private sector, returning to become President Obama’s counter-terrorism advisor. He was one of the officials in the War Room watching the Navy Seal raid in Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden.
Brennan spent his entire adult life in the CIA and the intelligence community, even when he went to the private sector. He’s arguably the most qualified nominee ever for this post, but even he has some controversy attached to him.
Over Christmas, 2003, Brennan was responsible for some false intelligence leaked to the press, which included an alleged list of terror targets. Being involved in the distribution of false intel (even when it happened during an administration notorious for its false intel) is a very sensitive issue today, after the fuss raised by the right wing over Ambassador Susan Rice’s post-Benghazi statements. But, Brennan’s bi-partisan history, or more accurately, non-partisan history, should be his strongest asset as he faces the confirmation hearings.
Now that we’ve passed the installation of a new Congress and Senate, perhaps the President will speed up his second-term appointments.