Chuck Hagel's battlefield experience from the Vietnam war should come in handy as he faces a pitched battle with Republican senators in his confirmation hearings to become the next Secretary of Defense. Just kidding, a Washington war is actually nothing like a real war. But pretending like it is a hallowed D.C. tradition to sex up the stories about serious, important, but usually boring policy disputes with all kinds of tough-guy metaphors. It's like the show Homeland, which would be a boring show about the federal bureaucracy if it didn't have mentally unstable characters to make it interesting.
"Obama choice of ex-senator Hagel for defence secretary faces tough Senate confirmation battle," the Associated Press says. The Wall Street Journal writes, "President Barack Obama, accepting the certainty of at least one bitter confirmation battle with Senate Republicans, rounded out his national security team..." While Hagel's opponents "have been lining up for battle," The Daily Beast's Eli Lake reports, AIPAC will be sitting this one out. Will Democrats get on board like good soldiers? Time's Mark Halperin thinks so. "Some are holding their fire and keeping their powder dry, if I can cram some clichés in there." And yet, despite all that dry powder and withheld fire, the outcome is a foregone conclusion, he says: "The question is will he be confirmed or not. Everybody thinks, in the end, he almost certainly will be."
Holding up Hagel as a controversial nominee who is almost certain to be confirmed would seem to require a bit of cognitive dissonance. To understand why it helps to look at the five major "concerns" about Hagel, which can be divided into two categories: policy and gaffe. Here are the two major dumb things Hagel has said that people are mad about:
- In 1998, Hagel called James Hormel, who was appointed ambassador to Luxembourg "openly, aggressively gay." Hagel has apologized. (The Daily Caller's W. James Antle points out that many Republicans opposed Hormel's appointment at the time.)
- In 2006, Hagel referred to hawkish Israel lobbyists as the "Jewish lobby." Hagel said, "The Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here... I have always argued against some of the dumb things they do because I don't think it's in the interest of Israel." BuzzFeed's Andrew Kaczynski points out that the Department of Defense used the term under then-Secretary Dick Cheney in 1990.
The more important controversy category is the one about policy. Here are the three major policy complaints:
- Hagel opposed unilateral (as in U.S.-only) sanctions on Iran. He supported multilateral ones. Hagel defended this position in an interview with the Lincoln Journal Star, saying, "I have not supported unilateral sanctions because, when it is us alone, they don't work and they just isolate the United States. United Nations sanctions are working."
- Hagel did not sign a letter to the European Union calling on it to designate Hezbollah a terror group. Hagel defended this by saying, "I didn't sign on to certain resolutions and letters because they were counter-productive and didn't solve a problem."
- Hagel supported a "pragmatic" approach to Hamas in 2009, suggesting engagement with the group to make it more moderate. The U.S. designates Hamas a terror group, but it's also the democratically elected government of the Gaza Strip.
See people? Total snoozefest. If Hagel thought the letter about Hezbollah was frivolous, you can imagine what he thinks about the controversy about the letter. However, he will have to pretend it is interesting during the Senate confirmation hearings, just as we will have to do for the hearings themselves.