President Obama announced that he is nominating former Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., – whom he hailed as a man willing to defy “conventional wisdom” in order to pursue the best interests of the United States and American troops — to replace Leon Panetta as Secretary of Defense.
“Chuck Hagel is the leader that our troops deserve,” Obama said, recalling Hagel’s service in Vietnam, where he was himself wounded and also rescued his brother after his brother was wounded. “Chuck knows that war is not an abstraction. He understands that he is sending out Americans to fight and bleed in the dirt and mud — that’s something we only do when it is absolutely necessary.”
Obama noted that he admires Hagel’s unconventional thinking on foreign policy. “For his independence and commitment to consensus, he’s earned the respect of national security and military leaders, Republicans and Democrats — including me,” the president said. “In the Senate, I came to admire his courage and his judgment, his willingness to speak his mind — even if it wasn’t popular, even if it defied the conventional wisdom.”
Hagel’s unconventional foreign policy ideas have him facing a tough confirmation battle. Every U.S. senator but Hagel signed a letter to then-Russian President Boris Yeltsin in 1999 criticizing the rise of anti-Semitism in post-Communist Russia, as The Washington Free Beacon notes. The Washington Examiner’s Phil Klein provides more background on Hagel:
[Hagel] has opposed isolating North Korea and urged talks with the murderous Syrian regime. As Senator, Hagel refused to sign onto a letter designating Hezbollah a terrorist group. In a 2008 interview, he explained why he didn’t cooperate with the practice of pro-Israel groups getting Senators to sign letters, and complained that, “the Jewish Lobby intimidates a lot of people.” Yet in 2009, he had no problem signing on to a letter asking Obama to open up talks with the terrorist group Hamas.
Whether or not Hagel actually gets confirmed, the fact that Obama’s choice for Secretary of Defense is somebody who is on the record saying that military action against Iran “is not a viable, feasible, responsible option,” who has opposed sanctions, and who has called for more engagement, sends an important signal all by itself. Unfortunately, that signal is a green light for Iran to race toward the creation of a nuclear bomb.
Outgoing Defense Department leader Leon Panetta praised Hagel. “I believe his experience, his judgement, his deep understanding of the security issues facing this country, make him the right choice to be Secretary of Defense,” Panetta said.