Friday, January 11, 2013

In Which I Respond to Raymond on Hagel

WARNING***This post contains political opinions that may offend some.  If you are easily offended by such, please cease reading now.

Raymond has written and open letter to America on the nomination of Chuck Hagel to be the next Secretary of Defense.  It is a serious bit of thinking and it urges the rest of us to just as serious reflection upon our times and this choice.  Yet I came away from its reading with the sense that somehow Raymond was judging me and others like me who have legitimate questions about Mr. Hagel's suitability for the job, questions raised by Mr. Hagel's own statements, votes, and views.  Raymond appears to dismiss questions about Israel and Iran as strategic side-shows, preferring instead to concentrate on matters raised a strategic notch above these.  There is nothing wrong with this--Raymond generally tends to think at strategic levels, and he does so with great skill. Where I break with him in this discussion is the extent to which he appears not to see side show issues as illustrative of a strategic worldview in Hagel, one that I believe warrants discussion and inquiry. 

I have not yet determined whether I would vote for Chuck Hagel or not, were I to be in position to wield such a vote.  There is no doubt in my mind that he is qualified to hold the position, that his experience both in the public and the private sector has well-prepared him for the post for which he is nominated.  However, I believe the advise and consent power of the Senate is more than simply a resume check.  More must go into a vote to confirm than a simple evaluation of the qualifications of the nominee.  A review of their record--what they did and what they said--is in order.  If a Senator reaches the conclusion that while a nominee is qualified, they are unsuitable, then that Senator should vote against them.

Raymond raises a number of issues to which he would have Mr. Hagel respond; better, it appears that he would like Mr. Hagel to have already responded to them so that his views on these serious matters would be public record.  I believe that Raymond will get his wish, but the place where these answers are generally given (or at least solicited) is in confirmation hearings.  Mr. Hagel will sit before the Senate Armed Services Committee, and at that time, Raymond's post should be required reading for each of the Senators. 

But what is to be done in the meantime?  Should we as citizens, aided and abetted by our free press, not engage in inquiry and ask tough questions about the paper trail left behind by someone as prominent as Mr. Hagel?  I say yes, we should.  I believe it is a legitimate part of the process, and it will inform the questioning of the nominee.  So, what could the process so far have revealed, which might be of interest to a voting member of the U.S. Senate?

My as yet incomplete assessment of the foreign and defense policy views of Chuck Hagel are that he is an offshore-balancer at heart.  In the spectrum of offshore balancers--from neo-isolationists on one hand to near selective engagers on the other, I'd put Hagel closer to the neo-isolationists, but certainly not one of them.  How might I confirm my suspicions of his instincts?  Well, I might go to Cato's homepage, the think-tank most closely associated with offshore balancing and what is increasingly becoming called the "Strategy of Restraint".  From the authors who have commented on the nomination, there is a clear support for Hagel, to include tired references to "neo-cons" and the like.

When one thinks about contemporary offshore balancing dogma, the "two I's"--Israel and Iran--figure prominently.  Most OB's think our relationship with Israel is problematic, that it causes more problems than it solves, and that it costs more than it saves.  With respect to Iran, their pursuit of nuclear weapons does not raise the same level of concern that it does in others (some even have called for them to get the weapon), they believe that sanctions and ganging up economically on Iran accomplishes little, and they feel that even our maritime presence in the Arabian Gulf is an irritant, with rich Arab nations free-riding on our largess.

This is why Hagel's statements on Israel and the Arab and Persian worlds matter.  They add to a building picture of a nominee who CLEARLY has a worldview, though he may not have yet articulated it to the degree that might be sufficiently responsive to Raymond's questions.  We who are watching this process from afar can be better informed as the nomination moves forward.  I have no problem with a US Senator as an Offshore Balancer.  Like many popular libertarian views, this one tends to alloy with other approaches (in this case, prmacy and or neo-isolationism as the case may be) to produce interesting policy approaches.  I am far more concerned with a Secretary of Defense who is an offshore balancer, especially when paired with a President whose national security policy appears to me to be one that moves the U.S. to a less influential role worldwide, partially out of a concern for economics and partially out of an ideological sense that the U.S. had exceeded its brief worldwide.  One way to accomplish both of these ends is to have a smaller, less globally influential military, and I don't think it can be argued convincingly that this isn't what Mr. Obama and the modern Democratic Party desire. 

So what better turn of events than to put a man into the Secretary of Defense job who can be cited as a Republican, and whose natural instincts--while ideologically different than those of the President--move the military in the same direction....smaller and less engaged?

Mr. Hagel's nomination is not SIMPLY about politics.  It is also about pragmatism, something I believe Barack Obama can be justly praised for.  He wants a smaller military, and he is putting a guy into the Secretary's job who he can rely on to make that happen--not because he's carrying the President's water, but because he is carrying his own.

This is why the discussion--some of it which seems to bother Raymond--is important.  We can indeed begin to build a picture of who our next SECDEF might be, and what he might think--based on existing evidence available to us.  It doesn't mean we've been captured by the "Jewish Lobby", to be wary of his views on Israel--it means we suspect that his views on Israel are the tip of an iceberg, the rest of which we may not wish to see.

Bryan McGrath

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