Rich Lowry
Grand Junction Free Press Opinion Columnist

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January 3, 2013
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LOWRY: Many problems with a Hagel nomination

It has been a bad time for the Republican Party, and wouldn't you know it? The worst addition to President Barack Obama's foreign-policy team could well be a Republican.

Former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel is reportedly under serious consideration to replace Leon Panetta as secretary of defense. A self-styled, foreign-policy realist, Hagel is out of the mainstream and terminally naive.

It would be one thing if Hagel were merely what he so often seemed when he was a regular on the Sunday talk shows - a tiresome purveyor of conventional wisdom overly impressed with his own seriousness. That would make him no different than about 90 other senators. It's that his realism is so profoundly unrealistic and bizarrely skewed.

At the core of his foreign policy is disdain for Israel and unquenchable desire to talk to terrorists.

For Hagel, it is forever incumbent on Israel to "take steps to show its commitment to peace," as he put it in the midst of a Palestinian suicide-bombing campaign in 2002. The Jewish state is beset by Hamas, Hezbollah and Syria on its borders and Iran over its horizon, but somehow it is Israel's commitment to peace that is perpetually in doubt.

When called on to act against or even simply condemn Israel's enemies (and ours), Hagel was usually the Bartleby of the Senate and answered, "I'd prefer not to." He voted against the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act in 2001, didn't vote on the Syria Accountability Act sanctioning Bashar Assad's regime in 2003, refused to sign a letter urging the European Union to label Hezbollah a terrorist group in 2006, opposed designating Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist organization in 2007, and blocked another proposed bout of sanctions against Iran in 2008.

To oppose striking Iran militarily for fear that it would be ineffectual and potentially backfire is one thing. To oppose sanctioning Iran is lunatic.

Hagel believes that a breakthrough of understanding with some of the most recalcitrant dictatorships in the world is always one earnest conversation away. So, he wanted to talk directly to Hamas, Assad and the mullahs. The correctness of this policy impulse is nonfalsifiable because if it doesn't work, its failure is attributed to insufficient effort on our part. If only we talked more and backed Israel less.

There is much to be said for Hagel's warnings prior to the Iraq War that the conflict would have unintended consequences. So it did - horrifying ones. But, at the end of the day, Hagel voted for the war. Then, he opposed the surge as "the most dangerous foreign-policy blunder in this country since Vietnam."

This combination makes him either a gutless dove or a foolish hawk, or maybe a little of both. If the war is a historic mistake, don't vote to authorize it. If you have voted to authorize it, don't oppose the one way to save it from becoming an utter fiasco.

It's not clear what draws Obama to Hagel. Surely though, the president can find someone more suitable from the ranks of his own party. Please, let's have a partisan appointment for secretary of defense.

Rich Lowry is editor of the National Review, a magazine founded by William F. Buckley Jr., featuring conservative commentary on American politics.

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The Post Independent Updated Jan 3, 2013 02:43PM Published Jan 3, 2013 02:41PM Copyright 2013 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.