Does it matter that a nominee for secretary of defense doesn’t particularly care for American power?
Speaking to the Center for Strategic and International Studies in 2007, Senator Chuck Hagel revealed the kind of prejudices regarding American military strength most frequently found in the pages of the The Nation or among protesters at Occupy rallies. Distancing himself from Republicans he regarded as too bellicose, Hagel said,
Rather than acting like a nation riddled with the insecurities of a schoolyard bully, we ought to carry ourselves with the confidence that should come from the dignity of our heritage, the experience of our history, and from the strength of our humanity, not from the power of our military.
This is a familiar leftist critique of America, a pseudo-psychological analysis of our foreign policy as a form of pathology. For a certain set of people, the problems in the world are never Soviet aggression and expansionism, communist repression and adventurism, or Islamic radicalism and terror. No, the problem is always America’s neurotic need to throw its weight around, alienating benign foreign powers and creating discord and trouble.
Whereas fair-minded people the world over consider the Islamic Republic of Iran to be a terror-sponsoring gangster regime, Senator Hagel described the Iranian regime at his confirmation hearing as an “elected and legitimate” government. A friendly Democratic senator later offered him an avenue for retreat, which he grabbed, saying, “What I meant to say — should have said — it’s recognizable.” What regime isn’t “recognizable”?
What solicitous Democrats cannot obscure is that Senator Hagel has a long record of softness toward Iran. He voted against designating al-Quds a terrorist entity, advised direct negotiations with the mullahs, opposed sanctions, and suggested that a military response to Iran’s nuclear program is not a “viable, feasible, responsible option.” In a 2007 speech, he praised Iran’s cooperation with the U.S. in Afghanistan and noted that our two nations had found “common interests.” From these, Hagel continued, “emerged common actions working toward a common purpose.”
This is sheer fantasy — disturbing enough in a U.S. senator but profoundly unsettling in a secretary of defense. Just two months before Hagel sprinkled these rhetorical rosebuds at the mullahs’ feet, an al-Quds force had attacked our forces in Karbala, Iraq. We were not at war with Iran (or not consciously). Time magazine reported the ambush:
In the back of two of the vehicles were the four Americans. One of them was alive, though barely. Handcuffed, he had been shot in the back of the head, but he was breathing. The other soldiers were already dead. One had taken bullets in both legs and his right hand, and at some point the kidnappers had torn open his body armor and fired bullets into his chest and torso. Two others were handcuffed together, with one’s right hand joined to the other’s left. Two shots in the face and neck had killed one. Four bullets in the chest had killed the other.
The al-Quds terrorists had stolen all of the men’s ID tags. Before dying, one of them had scrawled his name in the dust of the jeep.
Hagel is not worried about a nuclear Iran. In his 2008 book, he notes blithely that “the genie of nuclear weapons is already out of the bottle no matter what Iran does.” In that same year, Hagel proposed that the State Department open an “interests section” in Tehran.
Before the Hagel nomination, we lived with the polite fiction that President Obama was determined to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons. The president has reiterated this position consistently since 2007. Mr. Hagel demonstrated confusion about it during his confirmation hearing, mumbling that “we have no position on containment.” For clarity, Senator Carl Levin (another helpful Democrat) corrected Hagel. “We do have a position on containment, and that is we do not favor containment.”
As recently as last September, President Obama said, “Make no mistake: A nuclear-armed Iran is not a challenge that can be contained. . . . The United States will do what we must to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.”
But who can take that boilerplate seriously now? The president has nominated a man for defense secretary who warms the heart of the terror regime in Tehran, a man who despises U.S. power, a man who opposed not just military action but even sanctions against Iran. That the president refuses to withdraw this nomination makes nonsense of his repeated pledges to thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions. If ever a nomination were filibuster-worthy, this is it.