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
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.
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.
Post a Comment