The Senate’s failure last week to advance the nomination of former Senator Chuck Hagel to Secretary of Defense was the right result, but for the wrong reason. Some Senators voted against Hagel as a way of pressuring the Obama Administration to answer many troubling and still outstanding questions about the terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya. But the Hagel nomination deserves to be rejected on its own merit. Simply put, Senator Hagel lacks the necessary executive skills and experience, embraces naïve and dangerous foreign policies, and empathizes with sworn foes, all while showing antipathy toward loyal allies (i.e. Israel). This makes him manifestly unsuitable for this critical position.
The Department of Defense has been called one of the largest, most complex “corporations” in the world. To give anyone the helm of this organization with few—if any—executive skills is the height of folly. The Secretary must be a consummate leader, manager, and multi-tasker. Hagel’s resume betrays a lack of executive experience, and his inability to perform under pressure was on prominent display in his hearing. He could not adequately stand up to questions from his former colleagues—how will he stand up to the pressures of our national defense? His Senate career evidenced a conspicuous lack of key leadership/executive skills. He simply is ill-qualified for this job. His laudable service as a young sergeant in Vietnam neither exempts him from criticism nor gives him a pass on his lack of skills. We have hundreds of thousands of honorable veterans who are not qualified to be Secretary of Defense, and Hagel is one of them.
His embrace of naïve and dangerous policies is particularly troublesome in a nominee for this position. The embrace of “nuclear zero”—a wonderfully idealistic vision that completely ignores harsh realities (such as the growing nuclear threat around the world despite U.S. and international opposition) is only the most glaring flight of fancy. Magical and wishful thinking is not a desirable trait in the person responsible for assuring the security of our nation. Additionally, his blanket statements about “bloated” and “useless” defense spending that can “easily” be “fixed” clearly show that he has no conception of what the department needs or how it functions.
The Secretary of Defense must “know your enemy.” Hagel has trouble sorting out America’s enemies from our friends. He has advocated engagement and dialogue with Iran and Syria—an approach that the Obama Administration has pursued for four years that has accomplished absolutely nothing on behalf of our security or that of the Iranian and Syrian peoples. Both these countries have been and continue to be major state sponsors of terrorism. Hagel’s calls for the U.S. to establish normal relations with them make it appear that our differences with them are the fault of America. He has also spoken offensively and ignorantly of our most steadfast democratic ally in the region—Israel. The Secretary of Defense should be someone able to build honorable alliances, not destroy them, and who can recognize enemies and address them as such.
Certainly the Senate and the American people deserve to know what happened in Benghazi and why. But that knowledge should not be purchased at the price of installing an unsuitable candidate as the Secretary of Defense. The post is far too important to be treated as a political bargaining chip. What hangs in the balance of this nomination is the security of our nation. It is a job that requires a proven leader with executive experience and a sound understanding of global threats and workable defense policy. We can and must do better than Chuck Hagel.