One last question about newly confirmed Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel.
Why for nearly two months (a Washington eternity) did this nominee above all others galvanize GOP Senate opposition?
I ask the question in genuine wonderment. After all, there was John Kerry with that giant bull’s-eye on his record for giving outrageous aid and comfort to America’s enemies by, among other things, entering into negotiations with the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong in 1971. How does a U.S. citizen tapped to lead the State Department not have to answer to U.S. senators for such treasonous behavior while a young but already noted public figure?
He was never asked the question, that’s how. Kerry sailed, or even windsurfed, through his confirmation hearing right into Foggy Bottom with only three little dissenting bumps (no votes from GOP Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz of Texas and James Inhofe of Oklahoma).
Then there’s John Brennan, President Obama’s nominee for CIA director. Sure, the president’s counterterrorism adviser still sits unconfirmed on a hottish seat. But I would bet large sums of money that, whether confirmed (likely) or not, senators will never ask Brennan a single question about the gross misinformation or, worse, disinformation that he regularly disseminates concerning the nature and aims of Islamic jihad. Nor will he be asked about allegations from a credible source – former FBI investigator John Guandolo (whose special expertise is Islam and the Muslim Brotherhood) – that, as CIA station chief in Saudi Arabia, Brennan was successfully targeted for conversion to Islam by a Saudi intelligence operation. And forget about any GOP pooh-bah being bold enough to inquire about the role Brennan might have played in 2008 as CEO of the security company whose employee helped breach the State Department passport records of Hillary Clinton, John McCain and Barack Obama – whose new administration, not incidentally, Brennan would join a few months later. Mum is always the word.
But Hagel drew the heavy fire. Why? Let me explain that, except for sharing with Hagel the goal of bringing home American troops from Iraqi and Afghan hellholes and excusing them from nation-building duties forever, I do not share much of the former senator’s worldview. But when I look at the red flags the GOP seized on and waved, I remain perplexed.
Take GOP concerns over whether Hagel received compensation for speeches or think-tank contributions from freedom-hostile foreign governments – financial ties that do seem to bind. Even a quick perusal of the donors to the Atlantic Council, for example, where Hagel was chairman, reveals troubling tranches of Turkish money coursing through the coffers, as well as donations from Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Jordan and other countries.
I believe the appearance of influence-selling – or even simply taking bids – should disqualify all nominees from Cabinet positions. That includes Hillary Clinton when, in 2009, she came up for confirmation to be secretary of state. Hundreds of millions of dollars flooded her husband’s William J. Clinton Foundation, with many millions sluicing in from Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Kuwait, Qatar and elsewhere, creating not just a “conflict” of interest, but total wars of interest for America’s top diplomat. Not to worry, said the U.S. Senate, voting the nomination out of committee 16-1 (Republican Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana voted no) and confirming her 94-2. (Vitter and Republican Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina voted no.) Why was foreign money a confirmation problem only for Hagel?
Hagel critics also point out that the Pentagon nominee had alarming connections to lobbies of America’s enemy, Iran. And so he has. But Leon Panetta, former defense secretary and former CIA director, also has had troubling connections. These include a noted relationship with Hugh De Lacy, who was a Communist Party member with connections to notorious spies such as Solomon Adler and V. Frank Coe of the highly damaging Silvermaster group. Panetta also was associated with the Marxist think tank Institute for Policy Studies right smack in the Reagan ’80s. Such connections inspired not one peep during his 2009 confirmation hearing to become CIA director or, later, Pentagon chief. He was confirmed unanimously, no questions asked. Why?
Was it Hagel’s hostility toward Israel, so often expressed in language associated with anti-Semitism, that made him so noxious? Such attitudes, alas, by no means make him an outlier in the Obama administration – or in comparison to establishment Republican figures such as Brent Scowcroft or James Baker. His assent in an interview to a description of America as a world “bully,” meanwhile, is no more grating than former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s critiques of the Constitution in its pre-abolition days and of American democracy in its pre-civil rights days. Condi, of course, got a standing “o” last summer at the GOP national convention.
But Hagel, we were informed, closed his University of Nebraska archive to press requests for papers and speeches. I call that the behavior of a man with something to hide and, as such, a man who should not serve as Pentagon chief. But think of it: President Obama has prevented the public from examining items of even greater significance. The president has refused to release documentation pertaining to his identity, transcripts, thesis, medical records and senatorial schedule, offering instead that crude, apparently fraudulent online image of a birth certificate that no employer, private or public, would ever accept as proof of anything. And we just hired him for a second term.
More baffling still, the Hagel Sturm und Drang was all for naught. Some of Hagel’s noisiest opponents (Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina) voted to end debate on the Hagel nomination, thereby guaranteeing confirmation by a party-line floor vote.
So what was all that about? Given the hypocritical passes the GOP has granted other highly controversial administration figures, it certainly wasn’t about principle, strategy or even party coherence. Maybe it’s a sign of a party in search of a reason for being.