Chuck Hagel has been officially nominated by Barack Obama to be his Secretary of Defense today. The Nebraska Senator was given the nod by the President alongside John Brennan, who was nominated to become the new Director of the CIA. The nominations begin the process of confirmation, which may prove difficult, given recent allegations about the Defense Secretary’s nomination.
President Obama requested that the Senate move quickly through the confirmation process in order to fill the positions which are vital to national security. A former Senator would usually be viewed as a likely candidate for quick confirmation, but in Hagel’s case it may not be quite that easy.
In recent weeks, since Hagel’s name was first floated, several news stories have emerged accusing the Vietnam veteran of various controversial opinions. Mr. Hagel, who retired from the Senate in 2008, has been accused of climate change denial, homophobia, and, possibly most damaging, antisemitism. His voting record on the war in Iraq has also come into question.
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In a 2007 interview Hagel said that the “Jewish Lobby” intimidated lawmakers. In recent weeks and recent days, the veteran’s comments have been construed as based in antisemitism. His position on the state of Israel, less vehemently pro-Israeli than most lawmakers, has compounded his problems with the accusations.
Hagel also received criticism for his comments on the Sixth Fleet’s USO Center in Haifa. Commenting on the cost of keeping the facility open, Hagel apparently said “Let the Jews pay for it.” There aren’t many of these antisemitic sounding statements, but that doesn’t necessarily matter.
Another problem comes from the Jewish community in his home state of Nebraska. Various figures in that community have given indications that Hagel did not appear to care about them while he was representing the state in the Senate. Combined with his controversial comments, these concerns are amplified.
A couple of vaguely antisemitic comments combined with statements of disapproval from the Jewish community do not make Hagel an antisemitic person. They do, however, create a perception problem that the nominee will need to push past if he is to have any hope of securing the nomination.
That perception problem may be the biggest obstruction in what could have been a very easy nomination process. Hagel is a former moderate Republican, nominated by a Democratic President, requiring confirmation from a Democratic Senate. His nomination should have been simple.
Problems are coming from all sides. Some of Hagel’s former Republican colleagues, who, according to reports, he did not endear himself to while in the Senate, feel betrayed by his kneeling to the will of a Democratic President. Some of the more egregious accusations are certainly coming from the right side of the house.
Hagel’s nomination process is certainly going to be the real pick of the upcoming hearings. Sometime when a well known politician goes through confirmation it’s a simple process, old loyalties being hard to shift. Old grudges move slower. Chuck Hagel’s hearing may be messy, and just might be educational. Whatever it is, it will certainly be one to watch.