Chuck Hagel’s resignation: McCain and Cornyn were right

Republican senators who opposed the Chuck Hagel’s nomination to be defense secretary were right about one thing: Hagel wasn’t qualified.

Hagel resigned on Monday, reportedly under administration pressure to do so.

Two years ago, when President Obama nominated the Vietnam veteran and former Republican senator from Nebraska to join his cabinet, he might have thought it would boost his bipartisan bona fides after the bitter 2012 presidential election. He might have even thought that senators would rally around one of their own nominated to a position that historically saw confirmations occur with little controversy.

It didn’t work out that way. The GOP immediately went into attack mode. Hagel had always shown insufficient fidelity to the hard-core conservative line. He had even donated to a few Democratic candidates. Republicans also questioned whether he supported Israel and would cut support defense spending cuts.

Chuck Hagel.

Chuck Hagel.

The most deplorable attacks came from Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who suggested that North Korea was funneling cash to Hagel, and that he had ties to Iran.

A short-lived filibuster threat delayed the confirmation vote, and when it did happen, it was an almost party-line vote.

But credit where credit is due. A few Republican senators assessed Hagel correctly.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., warned, “I do not believe that Chuck Hagel, who is a friend of mine, is qualified to be secretary of defense.”

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, was even blunter. “There’s simply no way to sugar coat it,” he said. “Sen. Hagel’s performance before the Senate Armed Services Committee was remarkably inept, and we should not be installing a defense secretary who is obviously not qualified for the job and who holds dangerously misguided views on some of the most important issues facing national security policy for our country. Sen. Hagel is clearly the wrong man for the job.”

There was some self-fulfilling prophesy in this. By making the confirmation process so controversial and partisan, Hagel took the job damaged. It was never clear that he had the support he needed to lead America’s armed forces effectively.

Nevertheless, it turns out that McCain and Cornyn made a valid point. As news broke that Hagel was being forced to resign, an anonymous White House official admitted, “He wasn’t up to the job.”

This raises legitimate concerns about Obama’s decision process. Did he choose someone unqualified simply because he was so desperate to appear bipartisan?

There is a lesson in all of this, too, but it is not that Republicans were right two years ago. Rather, it is that when a party is throws every accusation it can think of against the wall, sometimes one of them sticks.

The GOP used Hagel to punish Obama for trouncing Mitt Romney. Their goal was and is to deny him even the smallest victory.


Christian Trejbal is a freelance editorial writer, editor and political consultant based in Portland, Ore. He wrote exclusively for The (Bend) Bulletin and The Roanoke Times before founding Opinion in a Pinch. He serves on the board of directors of the Association of Opinion Journalists Foundation and is open government chairman. Follow him on Twitter @ctrejbal and facebook.

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  • I will always appreciate what Hagel has done to elevate the discussion of development when it comes to national security. http://borgenproject.org/national-security-and-global-poverty/

  • NicciFredericpdo

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  • slideguy

    This is essentially a fact-free article. It does not make the case that Hagel wasn’t up to the job, but simply repeats other people saying Hagel wasn’t up to the job.. Apparently, Chris Trejbal is not up to the job.

  • Bill_Perdue

    Obama’s problem is not so much that he’s inept and a Republican at heart but that the US cannot win in the region from Morocco to Indonesia, not matter how many countries it invades, no matter many right wing, royalist or religious dictatorships it promotes or no matter how many civilians it and it’s colonial client state in Palestine murder in cold blood.

    copy

  • Useful information. Thanks!
    http://myvietnam-visa.net

  • Mark_in_MN

    Without arging that Hagel was the best choice, I’ve also seen very little (and nothing in this post) actually pointing to a lack of qualification or real and significant problems with his tenure or leadership at DOD. Despite serious question about how he’d handle the end of DODT, he did that quite well.

    McCain and Cornyn were just plaing their usual political games and warmongering.

  • Don Chandler

    Libya? Laughable. On Ukraine, Putin is a dictator. He controls every aspect of Russian society and he considers Ukraine a part of that society. In fact, Putin is a nanny dictator–seventy billion dollar nanny dictator. Obama? He has more enemies than Hagel and Obama’s enemies are not your friends either, nicho.

    You need to talk to some real Ukrainians. Maiden and the Orange Revolution are real. I think they are what Occupy couldn’t achieve after the banking scandals in the US: a genuine and overwhelming upheaval leading to the removal of the oppressor–not some interference from foreign powers.

  • Baal

    It was not the first time that Obama made a very bad personnel decision in an attempt to mollify his adversaries (a fool’s errand if there ever was one). Actually it is a pattern. The irony is that the other side hates him as much as if he has pressed ahead and actually followed the progressive agenda he ran on, and his desire to be loved and seen as a great uniter failed in the end. We needed FDR. We got….. well not that.

  • Indigo

    Because his handlers would have it so.

  • Indigo

    It was the right appointment at the time, the idea was to wind down the war with a bureaucrat in place who could make that happen. Then the wind shifted. As for McCain, he’s a war-monger under all circumstances, in no way a seer. The wind that shifted, shifted in his direction.

  • jamesnimmo

    Why, oh why, does Obama appear so wimpy?

  • angryspittle

    He obviously was not bellicose enough for the goddamn war profiteers.

  • Sean

    I want to second this opinion. Hagel might indeed have been unequal to the job, but the article needs to include some examples.

  • JosephP

    Chris, I don’t see one fact in your article that supports your contention that McCain and Cornyn were correct in claiming Hagel was not qualified for DOD. You just repeat their accusation and include a link to an anonymous White House staffer dumping on Hagel. In what specific ways did Hagel fail to meet the job requirements?

    It seems to me that the real problem was that Hagel spoke badly of the armchair amateurs at the White House and they made him pay for it.

  • I can’t see how Hagel would have been qualified even if he had to do nothing at all. His only saving grace is that he isn’t even close the most incompetent person to hold the office of Secretary of Defense in the modern era. Donald Rumsfeld still holds that trophy, proudly.

  • Thanks, D.

  • nicho

    No, you just missed it. Try to keep up. Does the name Libya ring a bell? How about Ukraine (where Barry spent $5,000,000,000 overthrowing a democratically elected government.)

    Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel was supposed to steer the Pentagon away from a decade of war, including bringing US troops home from Afghanistan and paving the way for a reduction in the Pentagon budget. Instead, the Obama administration has opted for remaining in Afghanistan, continuing the disastrous drone wars in Pakistan and Yemen, and dragging our nation into another round of military involvement in Iraq, as well as Syria. The ISIL crises has also been used as a justification for not cutting the Pentagon budget, as required by sequestration.

    http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/11/25/hagels-departure/

  • Demosthenes

    An excellent and balanced article!

  • emjayay

    I guess I missed all that. Satire?

  • nicho

    He may have been up to the task had it not been for Obama’s neoliberal quest for world domination. When the president is busy overthrowing one government after another, it’s hard for reasonable people to keep up.

  • I was thinking the same thing. Obama is stuck in this idea that if he makes accommodations to Republicans that they will then cooperate with him at least on issues where they are mostly in agreement. They won’t and they never intended to. Perhaps our next president will figure this out. And yes, this practice of Democrats appointing Republicans to Sec of Defense needs to stop. Someone neutral or nonpolitical might be a good idea, but appointing a Republican to that particular job over and over makes it look like there are no Democrats who are good on defense which is ridiculous considering how many Democrats in Congress were in the service.

  • keirmeister

    Once again, Obama is “rewarded” for his efforts to reach out to Republicans. I remember at the time that many of us on the Left were annoyed by Obama’s pick of Hagel – essentially feeding into this notion that only Conservatives are strong on defense.

    How’d that work out for you, Barry?

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