Former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel was sworn in Wednesday morning as the nation’s 24th defense secretary following a thorny confirmation process wrought with charges and accusations leveled primarily by members of his own party.
Fifty-eight senators voted to confirm Hagel, with 41 voting to reject his nomination. Four Republican senators joined 53 Democrats and two indepedendents in voting to confirm Hagel, who served two terms in the US Senate as a member of the GOP.
During his confirmation hearings, Hagel was roundly criticized for a variety of reasons by several Republican senators, including former colleague John McCain (R-Ariz.), who voted against his fellow Vietnam veteran. McCain attacked Hagel during Senate hearings in January for his opposition to the so-called “surge” in the Iraq War. Others, including Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), also questioned Hagel's committment to Israel.
Hagel, 66, is the first Vietnam veteran to head the Pentagon, as well as the first former enlisted man to rise to that position, as reported by Roll Call. He was a sergeant and squad leader in US Army’s 9th Infantry Division, earning two Purple Hearts during his Army service in 1967-68.
Hagel is the right man for the job at this time in American military history. Unlike McCain, who said during the 2008 presidential campaign that he could foresee American troops in Iraq for “100 years,” Hagel understands that perpetual war is not the best means for winning a lasting peace.
In November 2006, after American voters rejected Republicans in Congress largely because of President George W. Bush’s misguided invasion and occupation of Iraq, Hagel wrote in the Washington Post that there “will be no victory or defeat for the United States in Iraq.”
Hagel advised Bush to use the then-forthcoming report from a panel led by former Secretary of State James Baker as a means of implementing a “phased withdrawal” of US troops from Iraq. Bush ignored the recommendations from Baker and committed to the troop surge, the effectiveness of which has been debated in the years since.
The fact that McCain opposed Hagel on this point is precisely the reason why Hagel is the best choice to lead the Pentagon. If President Barack Obama is true to his word, US troops will be out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014. Hagel, who has been supportive of Obama’s Afghanistan policy, will do his best to help the president meet that goal and see the troops return safely after what is now the longest war in American history.
Hagel’s experience in Vietnam will serve him well at the Pentagon. In the previously cited Washington Post column, Hagel wrote that the U.S. "misunderstood, misread, misplanned and mismanaged our honorable intentions in Iraq with an arrogant self-delusion reminiscent of Vietnam.” In Hagel, the US has a realist with combat experience heading the Department of Defense. We’re lucky to have him there, no matter what McCain says.
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