Hagel nomination hearing begins, against a backdrop that is pretty far from ‘peace in our time’

I knew all these things from following the news, but I was impressed to see them listed together in a WSJ editorial this morning challenging the nomination of Chuck Hagel as SecDef:

In the week since President Obama declared “a decade of war is now ending” at his inauguration, a few things happened.

• Israeli warplanes on Wednesday struck a truck convoy outside Damascus and headed to Lebanon’s Hezbollah, according to news reports, amid concern about the spread of chemical and advanced antiaircraft weapons from convulsive Syria.

• The U.S. commander in Kabul predicted a tough spring of fighting and “an uncertain future” for Afghanistan.

• The French retook northern Mali from Islamist militias.

• Egypt’s military chief warned of the “collapse” of the Arab world’s largest nation.

• China moved ahead with naval exercises around Pacific islands disputed with Japan.

• And the Pentagon announced plans to boost American cyber defenses and set up an air base in north Africa (near Mali, Libya, Algeria, etc.)….

The Journal’s point was to wonder whether Mr. Hagel would be supportive of President Obama’s plans to cut defense spending to a percentage of the U.S. budget not seen since before Pearl Harbor (2.7 percent by 2021, compared to the current 4 percent).

By the way, Hagel’s confirmation hearing has begun, and you can watch it live here. The NYT’s report on the proceedings thus far make it sound like the nominee is doing his best to assuage concerns such as those expressed in the editorial quoted above:

WASHINGTON — Chuck Hagel, President Obama’s nominee to be secretary of defense, on Thursday morning said that the United States must lead other nations in confronting threats, use all tools of American power in protecting its people and “maintain the strongest military in the world.”

In an opening statement at his Senate confirmation hearing, Mr. Hagel presented a broad, forceful endorsement of American military power aimed at answering critics who say he would weaken the United States. He offered strong support for Israel, said he was fully committed to the president’s goal of preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons and said he would keep up pressure — through Special Operations forces and drones — on terrorist groups in Yemen, Somalia and North Africa.

“I believe, and always have, that America must engage — not retreat — in the world,” Mr. Hagel told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee….

But he’s facing some tough questions, such as one from Sen. Inhofe asking why his nomination has been endorsed by the Iranian foreign ministry:

“I have a difficult enough time with American politics,” Hagel says. “I have no idea.”

27 thoughts on “Hagel nomination hearing begins, against a backdrop that is pretty far from ‘peace in our time’

  1. bud

    But he’s facing some tough questions, such as one from Sen. Inhofe asking why his nomination has been endorsed by the Iranian foreign ministry:

    -Sen Inhofe

    That was just a silly, rhetorical question not worthy of a serious reply. And of course Hagel responded with the expected non-answer. Why do this ultra-conservative, neo-con types insist on behaving like a bunch of trolls? The answer is they want to appear to their rabit fellow neo-cons as tough. Instead they come across as the demegogues that they are.

  2. Doug Ross

    Which of those bullet pointed events are the responsibility of the U.S. to fix? Which of them are worthy of spending deficit dollars to remedy? If our fight against the War on Terror ™ is going so well, why does terrorism keep popping up all over the globe? Maybe we should try a less-is-more approach. Stop with the boots on the ground mentality that is so expensive and so ineffective.

  3. Brad Warthen Post author

    Actually, we have been trying something other than a “boots on the ground” approach. For instance, we’re providing support services to the French in Mali. We stuck to air support when the French (again) led the way in Libya.

    And if you don’t see how every one of those things affects the U.S. strategically — particularly the confrontation between Israel and Syria (with Iran weighing in), and the thing between China and Japan in the Pacific, then I don’t know where to start…

  4. Doug Ross


    You work under the misguided notion that we have the power to change the world to conform to the United States’ wishes… especially through the use of military force and sabre-rattling. All that has done over my lifetime is create more “opportunities” to fight war globally… All we do is ramp up anti-American sentiment and expend our limited financial resources outside our borders.

    Seriously, which of your bullet points pose a threat to the security of Americans? Which country is
    capable of attacking us in such a way that we could not respond to tens times over?

  5. bud

    You can start by acknowledging that our borders are safe from foreign invasion. Or perhaps you could start by saying the Israelis and Syrians can settle their own differences without ANY involvement by the US. Then again maybe some mention of the fact that China and Japan have a huge interest in resolving their differences peacefully and that our military has an affirmative duty to stay out of the way. We could start by bringing our sailors and soldiers home from Okinowa where they are increasingly unwelcome. Then there are the wasteful miltary bases in Europe. Or perhaps the collosal waste of money we spend on weaponry. Fact is the American military is spending considerably less than it has in may years and apparently the drop will continue for years to come. Quietly we’ve reduced the number of carrier task forces from 11 to 10. Do you feel any less safe because of that. I sure don’t. The smaller our military becomes the safer we’ll be. The one downside to all of this is our economy is growing more slowly. Then again it has helped cut the annual budget deficit by about a half $trillion since 2009.

  6. Brad Warthen Post author

    Bud and Doug, whenever y’all hold forth on American responsibilities and interests in the world (or rather, the utter lack thereof), I feel transported in time. Suddenly, it’s the late 18th Century, and America is (in Thomas Jefferson’s view, at least), a simple agrarian nation of yeoman farmers, each abiding as an autonomous entity, thinly settled along the Eastern seaboard, wanting nothing from the rest of the world but to be left alone.

    Trouble is, it wasn’t a completely accurate concept of the nation even then.

  7. Doug Ross

    The objective of achieving peace has been around well before the 18th century. The objective of making the United States the world’s policeman has been a more recent occurrence. Right about the time in post-WWII when the government and defense contractors realized there was a ton of money to be made off scaring people into thinking they were in harms way.

    All we have to do is look at the results of our military buildup, nation building, pre-emptive wars, meddling in foreign affairs. War begets war.

  8. Karen McLeod

    Brad, I agree that the US needs to be a leading force in international affairs. But, I think, of late, we’ve put way too much emphasis on “force” and not nearly enough on “lead.” Everytime we invade a nation, we make another enemy. Unless we are willing to imitate that “Prince of Peace” Augustus Caesar (motto: if you exterminate all your foes, it becomes extremely peaceful), then we’re going to have to stop using our military so much. We should only use our military in response to attack; not when we merely think that someone might. We cannot win freedom for anyone. They must win it for themselves. And teaching “democracy” with miitary force is an oxymoron. We can tempt; we can persuade: we can interdict trade; but the only way to make a country do our will is by utterly defeating it first. That solution costs many soldiers and much money. And if we do it for any reason except obvious self defense or equally obvious proper defense of another, we will be hated by all.

  9. Brad Warthen Post author

    Gosh, you pre-emptively invade ONE country ONE time, and people never let you forget it.

    But seriously, Karen, it’s not like it’s our M.O. or something. (I’m reacting to “Everytime we invade a nation…”)

  10. Phillip

    I wouldn’t argue that many of these “hot-spots” around the globe “affect the U.S. strategically,” as you put it. I just think that the neocons (besides being wrong in a moral sense) are just plain bad strategists.

    1. Steven Davis II

      I love how left-wingers throw around the word “neocon”. Has anyone ever used “neolib”?

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        There’s no such thing as a “neolib.” “Neocon” means something specific.

        Unfortunately, many on the left misuse the term. Frequently, they use it to describe anyone on the right, which is completely wrong.

        The neocons are a set of people who used to be liberals — strong-defense liberals — but became disenchanted with the left, and moved away from it. Irving Kristol, Charles Krauthammer, people like that. It was used to describe the Democrats who preferred Scoop Jackson to George McGovern. It was used to describe Jeanne Kirkpatrick and Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Paul Wolfowitz fits the description.

        Michael Lind wrote this description in 2004:

        Neoconservatism… originated in the 1970s as a movement of anti-Soviet liberals and social democrats in the tradition of Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, Humphrey and Henry (‘Scoop’) Jackson, many of whom preferred to call themselves ‘paleoliberals.’ [After the end of the Cold War]… many ‘paleoliberals’ drifted back to the Democratic center… Today’s neocons are a shrunken remnant of the original broad neocon coalition. Nevertheless, the origins of their ideology on the left are still apparent. The fact that most of the younger neocons were never on the left is irrelevant; they are the intellectual (and, in the case of William Kristol and John Podhoretz, the literal) heirs of older ex-leftists.

        Others would argue that people who have always been Republicans, such as Dick Cheney, are not properly neocons, although they have adopted some ideas of neocons.

      2. Phillip

        Steven, “neocon” may have originated as Brad cites below, but I believe the term has evolved somewhat as most people use it today.

        My simple definition is:

        A neocon is somebody who takes the statement “the US is the greatest force for good in the world” as an article of religious faith and believes that any military intervention we undertake in the world therefore is good and justified, because how could it be otherwise? We are, after all, “the greatest force for good in the world.” It’s foreign policy based on a tautology.

  11. bud

    Gosh, you pre-emptively invade ONE country ONE time, and people never let you forget it.
    Nor should we. Here are some more.

    How about Canada (1812), Mexico (1848), Phillipines (1900), Germany (1917), Korea (1950), Iran by proxy (1957), Cuba (1962), Vietnam (1965), Cambodia (1970), Lebanon (1983), Grenada (1985), Panama (1988), Iraq (1990), Kosovo (1997), Afghanistan (2001), Iraq-again (2003), Pakistan (2010).

  12. Karen McLeod

    Thankyou, Doug, but please don’t forget Pakistan. And, yes, Brad. When someone drops bombs on you, and kills your family (even if it was only collateral damage) you tend to remember it. And I could accept going into Afghanistan for bin Laden. That was reasonable self defense. We got bin Laden. As for Pakistan, the raid to get bin Laden was one thing. Our continued targeting of people via drone attack is another.

  13. Brad Warthen Post author

    I’m not following this meme at all. Perhaps someone would like to spell out the question to which all of these names of countries are the answer. Is it “Countries where the U.S. has been involved militarily?” If so, the list is incomplete.

    Bud mentions Kosovo, but what about Bosnia? The Balkans are important from a South Carolina perspective, as the Guard has been there for going on a couple of decades. One of my younger son’s best friends is in the Balkans for a second deployment, having been to Afghanistan in between.

    And what about Somalia? For that matter, what about France (twice in the last century)? How about Belgium, Holland, Italy, Germany, North Africa? Or Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Peleliu, Saipan. Don’t forget the Philippines. Which reminds me of Cuba.

    Then there are the halls of Montezuma, and the shores of Tripoli.

    Surely, surely y’all aren’t trying to list countries the United States has invaded. Vietnam? Really? Do you know what would have happened if we had invaded Vietnam? Hanoi would likely have fallen in fairly short order. Of course, we would have found ourselves in a protracted counterinsurgency, just as we experienced in the South, but the war in Vietnam would have looked very different had we been on the strategic offensive.

    Anyway, I’m curious to know what the category is, if all those places fit into it.

  14. Doug Ross

    Category: Countries that the United States has performed military actions that resulted in the deaths of American soldiers despite their being no credible threat to the national security of the United States.

    Pretty much all the major military efforts since and including Vietnam could have been avoided.

    We need a Secretary of Defense not a Secretary of Offense

  15. bud

    How about Belgium, Holland, Italy, Germany, North Africa? Or Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Peleliu, Saipan.

    Those WW II events don’t count because Japan DID attack us and Germany declared war on us. That’s a pretty clear and important distinction. On the other hand, WW I was to some extent a provoked situation but it is clear now that the British largely goaded us in to that one. After all both sides had blockades but the distinction is the Brits did so with surface vessels that could deter American trade with Germany without the need to sink the vessels. The Germans could only retaliate with subs. And as we now suspect the Lusitania did carry weapons of war. Sure the Germans were provacative but they never attacked US territory or declared war. So that counts.

  16. Phillip

    Brad, when you and I are running down Gervais Street, seeking cover from napalm and carpet bombing, remind me to ask you to please explain that semantic distinction about why those 500,000 foreign troops on our soil don’t constitute an invasion of some sort.

  17. Brad Warthen Post author

    I will, but you’re going to have to remind me to remind you. Because I’m pretty sure it’s not going to happen this week or anything, and beyond that things tend to slip my mind.

    Carpet bombing? So we’re assuming this invader has the strength to put half a million troops here, but is stuck in 1960s or earlier technology?

  18. Brad Warthen Post author

    OK, I’ve got it. Some sort of event — a nuclear pulse thing or something — has rendered electronics unworkable. So all modern targeting, not to mention avionics, are useless.

    Wait, I’m liking this scenario…

    Just spitballing here… we’re being invaded by somebody who prepared for this by stockpiling early-model B-52s and dumb bombs, and they’ve taken advantage of our overdependence on technology to deliver us a real body blow, on the level of the (original) “Red Dawn”…

    This is a pitch that just might work for Hollywood. A boffo action flick.

    So basically, as you and I are running down the street, I am unable to Tweet, “OMG! Those bogeys are bombing the s__t out of @PhillipBush and me!” What a nightmare…

    1. Ralph Hightower

      The EMP from a nuclear blast would fry electronics. The only cars that would still be running would be those that had carburetors and the engines weren’t computer controlled. Maybe we could import cars from Cuba.

  19. bud

    What American foreign/defense policy needs now more than ever is a sense of balance. We can support Israel without throwing the long-suffering moderate Palestinians under the bus. Plus, as noted by others here, we should focus on other parts of the world when it comes to foreign policy besides the tiny Middle-east. Seems like we’ve gotten all too hung up on one region while ignoring the vast majority of the world. When was the last time there was a major policy discussion about India? It’s a huge country that deserves some of our attention. Why? If for no other reason they are a rapidly growing nation with a growing impact on the environment.

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