Tuesday January 8, 2013

It doesn't get mentioned often, but one of the reasons Barack Obama won re-election to the presidency is because of his steady hand on our foreign and defense policy.

Post-Iraq War and after 11 full years fighting in Afghanistan, Americans are wary of entering any new wars and especially disdainful of bellicose saber rattling. Many of the same neo-conservatives who got us into the disastrous Iraq War would like nothing better than to launch a military attack on Iran because of its nuclear program, though there is plenty of evidence that bombing could not eliminate it and would likely ignite a regional firestorm.

Surprisingly, even after the catastrophic Iraq War, for which they pressed so hard and even stretched truth to the breaking point to launch the U.S. into, the neo-conservative foreign policy establishment has not been sidelined as a forever-discredited group of extremists. Indeed, necons dominated the Romney presidential campaign foreign policy team, and still occupy a prominent place in the GOP establishment.

This is yet another reason to be glad Obama won the election. Gone have been attempts to scare the American people with constant threat level alerts and talks of mushroom clouds over major American cities. President Obama's nominee for Defense Secretary, former Sen. Chuck Hagel, a Nebraska Republican, did vote as a senator to authorize the Iraq War, but he was sensible and honest enough to admit his mistake when it became apparent. He favors a non-military solution to the Iranian nuclear program.


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He has a strong relationship with the president, and tends to speak his mind, at times to a fault. Hagel, wounded twice as an enlisted man in the Vietnam War, would be the first veteran of this war and the first non-commissioned officer to serve as Defense Secretary. A successful businessman, he teaches at Georgetown University and is chairman of the Atlantic Council, a centrist foreign policy think tank.

Hagel has been a strong supporter of Israel, but he has been unafraid to state bluntly his opposition to such things as the continued illegal expansion of Israeli settlements on Palestinian lands. This, and his position on Iran, led William Kristol of the neo-conservative Weekly Standard to accuse Hagel of being "anti-Israel" and "pro-appeasement" of Iran, as noted by columnist Joe Klein in "Time" magazine. On the left, some oppose Hagel because of anti-gay remarks he made regarding a man appointed to an ambassadorship in the Clinton administration. Hagel has since apologized, and given how greatly public opinion has changed on LGBT issues in the past decade or so, we feel he should be taken at this word.

Hagel is a foreign policy realist and a truthteller who has experienced the military from the ground up, as it were. Having doubled since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, the U.S. military budget is bloated and needs to be cut, especially as we completely pull our forces out of Afghanistan. Hagel can deal credibly and forcefully with both sides of this equation: both the military brass and members of Congress with pet weapons systems manufactured all or in part in their districts, some of these developed even though the military doesn't want them. It's significant that fellow centrist Republican Gen. Colin Powell, former Secretary of State and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, emailed his approval of the Hagel nomination to CNN during Monday's announcement of the appointment.

Fortunately, the Senate will likely have the votes to confirm Hagel, despite the objections of the neocons and their friends in that body, such as John McCain and Lindsey Graham.

McCain and other Republicans did a hatchet job on U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice over the killing of the U.S. ambassador and other Americans in Libya -- a matter Rice spoke about on behalf of the administration but which she had no oversight of or responsibility for. This took Rice out of the running for the post of Secretary of State, and Mass. Sen. John Kerry is now the nominee.

Whatever the shadowy motives the Republicans had to discredit Rice -- to open up Democrat Kerry's Senate seat in Mass. to a special election? -- President Obama should fight as hard as possible to resist any similar smears against Hagel.

While it used to be said in the post-World War II era that "partisanship ends at the water's edge," in our extremely polarized political environment, partisanship apparently doesn't end anywhere.