Chuck Hagel’s Military Service: Suddenly a Nonevent — or Worse (Breaking Update)

UPDATE:

In what is an important breakthrough in the nomination of Chuck Hagel:

Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) announced his support Tuesday for the nomination of former senator Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) as secretary of defense, delivering a key vote for Hagel’s confirmation after weeks of voicing doubt about his positions on security issues related to Israel and Iran.

Schumer, the No. 3 Democrat and most senior Jewish senator, made the decision following a 90-minute meeting Monday in the West Wing, a secretive huddle that Schumer and White House officials kept under wraps until the decision to announce his support today.

Read more here

More:

According to the Washington Post, Sen. Charles Schumer’s support for Hagel “was sown up” after Hagel committed to several positions regarding Iran that met with Schumer’s preference. Among them:

Hagel would support “a very aggressive posture toward Tehran,” and promised “that he would do ‘whatever it takes’ to stop Tehran from obtaining nuclear weapons, including the use of military force,” and that “his ‘top priority’ as Secretary of Defense would be the planning of military contingencies related to Iran,” says Schumer

“Hagel also pledged to continue supporting the delivery of F-35 joint strike fighters to Israel and in general supported Israel’s right to a strong ‘Qualitative Military Edge’, as its leaders like to assert,” according to the Post.

The New York Times adds:

On nearly every other issue that Mr. Schumer brought up with Mr. Hagel — his views on the militant Islamist groups Hezbollah and Hamas, his prior comments about gays, his use of the term “Jewish lobby” to refer to Israel advocacy groups — all seemed to be tamped down in the meeting.

“I know some will question whether Senator Hagel’s assurances are merely attempts to quiet critics as he seeks confirmation to this critical post,” Mr. Schumer said. “But I don’t think so. Senator Hagel realizes the situation in the Middle East has changed, with Israel in a dramatically more endangered position than it was even five years ago.”

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Original Post:

Conservatives, Republicans, neocons have consistently glorified military service, as they should.

Back in October of 2010 Debra J. Saunders at SFGate.com lamented:

Even though America is fighting wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, members of President Obama’s Cabinet are three times more likely to have attended law school than boot camp.

Only two – Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki – among the 16 Cabinet and six Cabinet-rank officials are military veterans.

But now, as president Obama nominates to be the next Secretary of Defense a man who has attended boot camp, a man who has served honorably and heroically in combat in Vietnam, a man who was awarded two Purple Hearts, a man who rescued his unconscious brother from a troop carrier that had hit a mine, a man for whom war was up close and personal, they — many “chicken hawks” themselves — are conveniently and disingenuously changing their tune.

They now downplay — even dismiss — prior military service as a good qualification for holding a higher office in our nation’s government.

They now say that “Hagel’s military service is a scant qualification for defense secretary,” even when considered along with all his other impressive qualifications and experience.

Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens does exactly so in his “Chuck Hagel’s Courage.

After perfunctorily praising Chuck Hagel’s Vietnam service, Stephens claims that such tributes to Hagel’s personal courage “will now be trotted out repeatedly as proof of his fitness to serve in high office.”

Nothing is said about how frequently, how loudly and how proudly Republicans “trotted out” George W. Bush’s stateside, non-combat service in the Texas Air National Guard as eminent proof of his qualifications to be Commander in Chief and to take our nation into an unnecessary war.

Nary a word about the hundreds of Representatives, Senators, Cabinet Members, or the more than 30 U.S. presidents with prior military service or how — during recent campaigns — such service has been considered, especially by Republicans, as one of the highlights in their candidates’ biographies.

Forgotten are the vicious attacks on President Obama’s qualifications to be Commander in Chief, or President, because he lacks military service.

But what I find even more disturbing, more underhanded, are the attacks that use the fact that Chuck Hagel “only” saw enlisted military service — that he was “just” a grunt, “just” a Sergeant — as additional, shameful ammunition to try to derail his nomination.

For example, Washington Post’s Eliot Cohen, after ridiculing what he alleges to be “ President Obama’s chief case for nominating [Hagel]: that he served honorably as a sergeant in Vietnam, where he was twice wounded in combat,” has this to say about Chuck Hagel’s enlisted wartime service:

What is it, precisely, that one would bring by service as a sergeant in a war more than 40 years past — almost as distant from today as the charge up San Juan Hill was from D-Day, or the Battle of New Orleans was from Gettysburg? It was an important, even searing, life experience, no doubt. But the technology, strategy, tactics and organization now are all utterly different. Today, we have a hardened professional army, not a band of reluctant conscripts caught up in the Big Green Machine. And a defense secretary is not the secretary of the Army: The other services have very different equipment, cultures and problems.

Setting aside the insult to our present and former enlisted men and women, to the tens of thousands of enlisted personnel — including this writer — who have gone on to receive their commissions in our armed forces, to the thousands who have gone on to become successful generals, entrepreneurs, CEOs, diplomats, Congressmen and Senators, I ask:

What is it, precisely, that Vice President Dick Cheney who “had other priorities” brought to the nation’s table, other than embroiling our nation in a tragic war?

What is it precisely that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who did serve our country as a Navy commissioned officer, contributed to the “successful” conduct of the Iraq War?

Chuck Hagel’s prior military service as “just” an enlisted man, as “just” a combat grunt, in combination with all his other vast business, financial, executive, political and Senatorial and Veterans Administration experience, will bring to the table — when confirmed as our next Secretary of Defense — many of the very qualities and experience Cohen pooh-poohs:

The “empathy with the troops, an awareness of the horrors of wounds and violent death” that only combat experience uniquely produces.

The fact that Chuck Hagel although “quite capable of sending young men and women into harm’s way,” will not do such lightly.

The fact that if and when SecDef Hagel is faced with such decisions and actions he probably will not “sleep well at night,” in contrast to Cohen’s tough, imaginary Secretary of Defense.

The fact that, yes, sergeants “are the backbone of the armed forces,” and that, while “their experiences and responsibilities are not those of the secretary of defense,” many of them, with their added professional and life experiences can indeed, “wrestle with one of the world’s largest bureaucracies; make difficult choices among extraordinarily expensive technologies; show discrimination and judgment in picking and, if necessary, firing generals; balance domestic and foreign politics; knit his or her department into the intricate web of interagency relationships; and advise wisely on strategy and campaign plans.”

Chuck Hagel is one of them.

Let us not underestimate the capabilities, the mettle and the potential of our military — enlisted or otherwise — especially not in the process of attacking Chuck Hagel.

Image: www.shutterstock.com

Author: DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist

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