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January 8, 2013 SHARE

Spoiling for a fight over Chuck Hagel

By Wes Pruden
If Barack Obama wants a fight over his appointment of Chuck Hagel as secretary of Defense, the Republicans have a constitutional responsibility to give him one.

The Senate’s role, to “advise and consent” to the appointment, is a description of duty, not a command to “echo and obey,” which is the president’s idea of how Congress should respond to all of his appointments, legislation, whims, wishes and dreams.
Mr. Obama, like all presidents, is entitled to choose his aides, helpers, assistants, deputies and seconds, subject to the advice of the Senate, and to consent once the senators are satisfied that the president knows what he’s doing. The rest of us have to depend on the judgment of the senators, frightening thought though that can be.

Mr. Hagel comes with some qualifications that commend him to all of us. He served two terms in the Senate, leaving with no moral or legal blemishes on his record – no scandal in a men’s room, no arrests for driving drunk or drugged, nor is he pursued by indictment for mis- or malfeasance of office. Congress often lives up to Mark Twain’s description of it as our native criminal class, but Mr. Hagel comes clean. There’s no paper on him. Unlike some of the chickenhawks in Washington, Democrat and Republican alike, Mr. Hagel never dodged putting on his country’s uniform. He returned from the Vietnam War a wounded hero, a grunt with two Purple Hearts.

Some other things in his record commend him to President Obama for the wrong reasons. They might make him the president’s soul mate, but such statements and sentiments have put him well outside the consensus of the rest of us. He has said harsh things in the past about Jews and Israel that the president would never have said, but might appreciate Mr. Hagel’s saying them.

Mr. Obama knows what’s coming once the Hagel hearings begin, and in introducing Mr. Hagel began slapping on the whitewash. “Chuck Hagel is the leader that our troops deserve,” he said. “He is an American patriot. As I saw during our visits together in Afghanistan and Iraq, the troops see a decorated combat veteran of character and strength. They see one of their own.”
All true, though the troops are always glad to see visitors from home and the president shouldn’t mistake good manners for rousing applause for the visitor’s views. No one suggests that Mr. Hagel is not an American or not a patriot, though trying to wrap another man’s patriotism around himself is not a persuasive presidential argument. We can stipulate that Chuck Hagel is no John Kerry, the president’s choice for secretary of State. Mr. Hagel did not return from the Vietnam war to libel American soldiers as killing brutes who mutilated and defiled enemy dead. Mr. Hagel will be asked to defend his judgment, not his patriotism. President Obama’s introduction of Mr. Hagel was a cheap shot aimed at anyone with a legitimate question about that judgment.

The president’s casting of his choice of Mr. Hagel as a stroke of bipartisanship, meant to soothe raw feelings of Republicans in the wake of the election, is neither a stroke of bipartisan bonhomie nor a proffered sip of soothing syrup. Mr. Hagel, who pointedly declined to endorse his old sometime friend John McCain in his 2008 race against Mr. Obama, long ago went over to warm himself at the enemy’s campfire. The Hagel nomination is a slap in the face, just as the president meant it to be.

Whatever else he is, Mr. Hagel is the president’s kind of Republican – he opposes tightening the screws of sanctions against Iran, he opposed the troop surge that finally turned the tide in Iraq, and, most of all, he makes all the right noises against America’s only reliable ally in the Middle East. He’s no friend of Israel and he’s no friend of America’s mission in the Middle East. There’s not enough whitewash in the White House tool shed to change that.

Former Sen. Chuck Hagel
The Republicans should avoid making the case against Chuck Hagel solely a case against his views on Israel, important as that will be. He obviously doesn’t like our ally in the Middle East very much, and he has made offensive remarks about Jews in America. But the case against making him the secretary of Defense is much larger than that. He may be just the man to serve up a dish of crow to his old Republican friends, but he’s the wrong man for America.

Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.

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