Analyst: Hagel Not the Republican the GOP Was Hoping For

President Barack Obama nominated former Sen. Chuck Hagel to serve as the next secretary of defense. Photo Credit: Official White House Video, Screenshot.
President Barack Obama nominated former Sen. Chuck Hagel to serve as the next secretary of defense. Photo Credit: Official White House Video, Screenshot.

Chuck Hagel is one day closer to the Senate confirmation process, but that doesn’t mean he’s closer to being confirmed to be the next defense secretary, especially given the heated opposition to his nomination.

Republicans are calling him soft on Iran and Iraq while also labeling him as anti-Israel. Meanwhile, Democrats have criticized his record on LGBT issues throughout his career as a senator.

Host Carmen Russell-Sluchansky spoke with Peter Feaver, a political science and public policy professor at Duke University, and Jonathan Morgenstein, a fellow at the Truman Project and a freelance consultant on issues of post-conflict democracy development, security sector reform and human rights, to discuss what a Hagel confirmation could mean for Obama’s foreign policy in the second term.


Chuck Hagel is one day closer to the Senate confirmation process, though the former Senator is not necessarily closer to confirmation. Much of the opposition comes from his fellow republicans. He’s under fire for comments he’s made that have been seen as anti-Israel and anti-homosexual. Online I have Peter Feaver, he’s Professor of Political Science and Public Policy at Duke University and I also have Jonathan Morgenstein, who’s the fellow at the Truman Project, he’s a freelance consultant on issues of post-conflict democracy development, security sector reforms and human rights.

Peter, let me start with you. Give us your perspective.

Peter Feaver: Senator Hagel has served as a Republican Senator, but he’s not the kind of appointment that Republicans in Congress anyway were itching for. You can make a cross-party nomination that would engender support. That was what President Obama did when he kept Secretary Gates as a Secretary of Defense, or you could make a cross-party nomination that would stick in the eye of the other party. And that seems to be more of the latter.

Interesting enough. Jonathan, I do wonder why Obama seems to fight more for Chuck Hagel rather than Susan Rice as Secretary of State. What does it say about changes or continuity in his foreign policy approach this coming term?

Jonathan Morgenstein: I think when both Hagel and Obama were in the Senate together, a lot of their views on foreign policy seemed to line up. In all, they both thought that when there’s a threat that needs to be confronted, that needs to be taken on, the U.S. should be ready to use all the military force required to do so, but also that that should be absolute last resort. Chuck Hagel actually voted for the Iraq war resolution, and previous to that he supported the war in Kosovo. He’s a man who voted for the use of military actions, but later on came to see that the war in Iraq was the wrong choice to make. I think now he’s being vilified, because he was one of the few republicans with moral courage to stand up and confront his own republican president on the failures of the Iraq war. I think that’s something that President Obama appreciated. They have similar vision, but Senator Hagel wouldn’t be the yes-man, he would address issues as he believes.

What about the Iran issue?

Peter Feaver: Senator Hagel’s position on Iran appears to be more dovish than President Obama’s position. President Obama has said that of course he prefers negotiated solution with Iran, but living with an Iranian nuclear weapon is an unacceptable option. Senator Hagel’s position seems to be more opposed to military force.

Jonathan Morgenstein: My understanding is that he didn’t want unilateral sanctions against Iran, partly because he didn’t want us to be out there on our own enacting this policy. One of the attacks that the republicans have made of the Obama administration was how forceful the Obama administration has been in trying to mobilize global coalition before taking action against Iran. But that has resulted in huge successes in terms of getting China and Russia to agree to the tougher sanctions virtually against any country ever out of the Security Council.

Chuck Hagel also served in Vietnam. What difference does it make?

Peter Feaver: One can praise him for his service in Vietnam, which, by all accounts, was heroic and he has received a lot of praise for that. But, just because you serve in Vietnam honorably doesn’t mean that all your views are correct. Indeed, there’s another man who served honorably in Vietnam – Senator McCain. And he seems to have opposite views to Hagel on many-many of the key issues of the day.

Peter Feaver: I would expect that Senator Hagel will be confirmed, but I also suspect he will not enjoy the strong vote of support that his predecessors received.

Jonathan, what do you make of Senator John McCain’s opposition? They served in the Senate together. What much of it really is about policy or maybe it is a payback when it comes to the fact that Hagel didn’t support McCain in 2008 election?

Jonathan Morgenstein: I think it’s probably a combination of both. Clearly they disagree on certain aspects of foreign policy, but then again, of course, Senator Hagel is being nominated by a Democratic President. Of course, they’re going to disagree. However, traditionally, you’re going to confirm the President’s nominee unless there’s something that makes them grossly unqualified. And clearly Chuck Hagel is qualified to be Secretary of Defense. He started a multimillion dollar cellphone company. He was the president of the USO which is 330 million dollar organization that serves Americans troops deployed in the combat zones here in the U.S. or around the world. Whether Senator McCain feels that Hagel is her personal enemy – I don’t know.

Jonathan Morgenstein: But I think it would be completely disingenuous to say that he’s not qualified.

Peter Feaver: There’s also a principal issue between McCain and Hagel. It’s not just that Hagel came to see the war as a mistake. A lot of people did that. Hagel opposed the surge in Iraq and indeed he called the surge the biggest foreign policy blunder since Vietnam, not the invasion of Iraq, but the surge which was designed in 2007 to reverse the security trajectory. McCain passionately believes that the surge was necessary and that it accomplished what it set out to do which was rescue the situation. That is the principal difference in the policy between the two that I think speaks directly to the kind of advice Secretary Hagel might give President Obama in war time.

Peter, one of the things that also have been suggested is that President needed someone in that position that could help him work the cuts.

Peter Feaver: President Obama is signaling that the Defense Department is going to face deeper cuts than it faced already. And If Hagel is confirmed he’ll spend a lot of time working out this problem. That’s sad. If what you wanted was somebody who would help you do the defense cuts and help you sell the defense cuts, than Senator Hagel is not the obvious first choice.

Jonathan Morgenstein: Senator Hagel has served as Secretary of Defense Policy Board and has been dealing with these issues, since the discussions began. I don’t think you could really question his capacity to make hard choices about cutting spending.

About Carmen Munir Russell-Sluchansky 360 Articles
Carmen is a multimedia journalist based in Washington, DC whose work has appeared in a variety of outlets including National Geographic, NBC News, the BBC, Asia! Magazine, The China Post, Chicago Tribune and Orlando Sentinel.