Hagel is the right choice

President Barack Obama’s nomination of Chuck Hagel for secretary of defense has generated a bewildering amount of controversy, but it seems to be a sure thing anyway. This is good.

Photo © Chris Maddaloni  / CG Poll Call
Photo © Chris Maddaloni / CG Poll Call

President Barack Obama’s nomination of Chuck Hagel for secretary of defense has generated a bewildering amount of controversy, but it seems to be a sure thing anyway. This is good.

Despite some regrettable stances, Hagel is a great choice.

The biggest objections to his nomination seem to be that he’s anti-Israel from the right, and anti-gay from the left. While it’s true that he’s said some poorly thought-out things about Israel, and his gay rights record as a senator was consistently bad, all of the other things that make him a good pick outweigh those less desirable qualities.

For starters, there’s nothing bad about not being pro-Israel. Being pro-Israel is for some reason now a litmus test for elected officials at almost all levels of government, but it shouldn’t be. Yes, Israel is our ally in the Middle East, and yes, Jews deserve a safe homeland. But Israel has been just as intractable as Palestine when it comes to peace talks, and has ignored agreements with America when it comes to settlement. The GOP’s far right likes to paint Israel as a “with us or against us” type of situation, but Hagel has proved that he’s not anti-Israel.

As a senator, he consistently voted for military aid for Israel. The accusations of anti-Semitism come from a statement he made in 2006 in which he said that “the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people” in Congress and causes them to do “dumb things.”

Yeah, that’s probably not the best way to have phrased that. The meaning of the statement is very clear, though. He believes that the pro-Israel lobby and sentiment has caused some people in Congress to act irrationally.

His history of opposing gay rights is definitely troubling. It shouldn’t be written off, and since he’s tried to distance himself from that history, it’s important that he puts some action behind those words. The main reason this doesn’t bother me, though, is that he can’t really do much to help or harm the issue as secretary of defense.

Obama’s administration is finally firmly in support of gay rights, and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was repealed. While it’s important to see that Hagel has made progress on the subject and isn’t simply smoothing it over, I think it’s OK to take his word for it now because, ultimately, there are larger issues at stake, and they’ve been almost completely ignored.

Issues like whether or not the United States should go to war with Iran. On that one, Hagel is golden. He’s voted against things like unilateral sanctions against Iran, or declaring the Revolutionary Guard a terrorist group. He doesn’t favor a preemptive strike on Iran. He said the war in Iraq was a mistake. Hagel is dedicated to keeping us out of Iran and finding a peaceful path to nuclear disarmament. Personally, I’d rather have someone who is clearly opposed to getting us into another war than someone who’s just a smooth talker.

He’s also in favor of making cuts to the Department of Defense, which is bloated and full of resources that it doesn’t need or deserve. Despite what Romney tried telling you during the election, we do not need to put more money into the Pentagon. Trimming down the DOD would be a huge, very important service to the U.S. people.

His bipartisanship is important, too. A former Republican senator being nominated by a Democratic president and well on his way to being confirmed by a Democratic majority in the Senate is a great sign. Although noisier Republicans like Lindsey Graham and Mitch McConnell oppose him, I’m willing to bet that among more level-headed GOP senators, Hagel will do well.

So yes, Hagel’s had some unfortunate incidents in his past. But for current issues, Hagel is exactly who we need. He’s a big step forward in creating a more peaceful foreign policy toward the Middle East and making cuts to the Pentagon. He’s the man for the job and, though his nomination has been rocky so far, I have no doubt that the right choice will be made.