A Tale of Three Cabinet Nominees
President Obama's national security nominees -- former Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE), Senator John Kerry (D-MA), and counter-terrorism adviser John Brennan -- all have something in common: they appear risk-adverse and want to disengage America from the world's affairs. The questions that need to be asked: should they have been nominated, and will they put America at greater peril? American Thinker interviewed experts to get their opinions.
There is a wide consensus that Hagel should never have been nominated. Many Jewish groups are very discouraged by the president's choice. Although many of his remarks might not be considered anti-Semitic, they certainly show a lack of cultural sensitivity. President Obama has promoted cultural sensitivity throughout his administration, yet he disregards it when it comes to those who support Israel.
Throughout his Senate career, as reported by various Jewish Nebraska constituents, Chuck Hagel seems to always place the blame on Israel, demanding one-sided concessions. He supported opening a dialogue with Hamas, and in 2004, he was one of twelve senators who did not sign a letter designating Hezb'allah a terrorist organization.
Although former New York mayor Ed Koch had many reservations against Hagel, he commented to American Thinker that he was reassured by Senators Schumer (D-NY) and Boxer (D-CA) that Hagel is not anti-Israel. Maybe all those who seem to be ignoring Hagel's past statements and believe his current claims -- i.e., that he is a strong supporter of Israel -- should think about the statement "some of my best friends are Jews."
Regarding Iran, Hagel does not support keeping the military option on the table. He wanted to open an "American interest section" in Iran one month after then-CIA Director Michael Hayden said, "A policy of the Iranian government, including at the highest levels, facilitated the killings of American soldiers and coalition forces in Iraq."
Hagel's other statements and voting record make it appear that he is working for the Iranian lobby. In 2001, he denounced proposed sanctions on Iran; he refused to sign a letter urging President Bush to highlight Iran's nuclear program in 2004; and in 2007, he opposed sponsoring the Iran Sanctions Act, which urged the president to designate the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization, even though 72 senators supported it, including Obama, Kerry, and Biden. He also opposed in 2008 bipartisan bills that imposed sanctions on Iran and stated in 2009 that the U.S. is "the world's bully ... America's refusal to recognize Iran's status as a legitimate power does not decrease Iran's influence, but rather increases it."
The general response is that Hagel should not be confirmed as secretary of defense. Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen (R-FLA), chairwoman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, is "very worried about this nomination. His outlook is that we don't have an enemy that he disagrees with. He has never met a despotic ruler he did not think he could engage. I think he is dangerous. Iran should endorse Hagel to be secretary of defense. Something that is not getting a lot of publicity is that he also did not support sanctions against Cuba. He called our position on Cuba 'goofy.' Yet every day human rights activists get persecuted and prosecuted. To use a word like 'goofy' when talking about our policy toward Cuba is so demeaning, condescending, and insulting to the opposition leaders. Our enemies know weakness. When they see and hear this pacifist, they know he is someone they can run over. I want someone in this position who is not afraid, if necessary, to use our power and might."
Congressman Devin Nunes (R-CA), a member of the Intelligence Committee, views Obama's foreign policy as a "complete disaster." He cites Iraq; Afghanistan; Libya; Africa, where al-Qaeda is spreading; the ridiculous China pivot statement; and the statement given to the Russian president about flexibility. He is wondering if the president chose Hagel to have a Republican rubber-stamping the defense cuts that Obama strongly supports as well as supporting the president's chaotic foreign policy.
Reaction to Senator Kerry becoming secretary of state is mixed. Former military men wish that Kerry would have been disqualified for statements he made undercutting the troops. These statements include his 1971 statement regarding U.S. soldiers in Vietnam: "They personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs[.]" In 2005, he said this about U.S. soldiers fighting in Iraq: "American soldiers [are] going into the homes of Iraqis in the dead of night, terrorizing kids and children, you know, women[.]" American Thinker was told that if active duty and veterans were polled, there would be little support for Senator Kerry.
Afghanistan and Iraq war veteran Pete Hegseth, who is chairman of Concerned Veterans for America, believes that Kerry has the attitude "that we can support the soldier, but undermine the war they're fighting for. Most troops feel that supporting the warrior also means supporting their execution of the mission given. It is not helpful to have our political leaders making disparaging comments, like 'the war is lost' or 'the surge cannot work.'"
Scott Taylor, a former SEAL, noted to American Thinker that there were rumors that Kerry was going to be nominated for secretary of defense. Taylor is grateful that Kerry was chosen for secretary of state instead, since "if he was nominated for Defense, it would have been seen as a punch in the face to veterans. His public statements on U.S. military members and their actions going back to Vietnam and continuing through 2005 show a clear disregard for the men and women who wear the uniform proudly. It is my belief that his nomination for State is a poor choice, considering he will be America's face to the world."
On the other hand, former Iraqi fighter pilot Dan Hampton, who authored Viper Pilot, sees Kerry as qualified and gives him a thumbs-up for "going over to Vietnam voluntarily, serving in combat, and being a war hero. Since Kerry was a former military commander, I am hopeful that he would not be in a hurry to throw American lives away in some cesspool like Afghanistan. He has that past experience to draw upon. A lot of guys who fought before are not quick to jump in and say let's do it again. However, he needs to have a line in the sand that says, 'Now we will fight.' Hopefully, he will use common sense."
John Brennan, the nominee for CIA director, also has mixed reviews. Someone who worked closely with him for many years at the CIA regards "John as extraordinarily well-prepared to lead the Agency. He has deep familiarity with all aspects of the organization. There would be zero 'learning curve' if he is confirmed for the position. It is obvious that he has the respect and confidence of the president, which is critical to doing the job well."
He further stated about Brennan's view on enhanced interrogation, "From early 2001 until mid-2003, John held an administrative position at the Agency: deputy executive director. Whether you think those techniques were legal, effective and necessary, as I do, or whether you disagree, I believe it is incorrect to ascribe credit or blame to him for the program. He simply was not directly involved. I disagree with John's current stated position on EITs, but that is pretty much a moot point since the administration banned all of them four years ago and most had fallen out of use long before that. That aside, I can't think of anyone better-prepared to be CIA director who this administration might appoint."
Another former National Security official referred to Brennan as thin-skinned but a hard worker. This person noted that Brennan often "does not see the big picture, gets too involved in the details, and thinks tactically, not strategically. I hope he does answer the interrogation questions truthfully and not at the expense of those still at the Agency, which will cause a lot of resentment. I know he was there during that time period, and no one can recollect him being against [EIT]."
Congressman Nunes finds it ironic that "people complain about harsh interrogation yet are okay with vaporizing people. In reality, they are kind of wimps, because they are not willing to do the hard stuff of capturing and interrogating people to get actionable information. The enemy knows that this administration won't interrogate them."
These three nominees appear to be more in line with the president's perspective on foreign policy. Unlike Panetta, Clinton, and Gates, these three appear not to have an independent philosophy from the president. Hayden summarized it best: "This new group is likely to be more comfortable with a much smaller residual force in Afghanistan, no stability operations, a light footprint, covert actions, special forces, and drones to defend American interests. They will move from heavy to light footprints, more to less, and longer to shorter engagements. The question is what this might do on the international and domestic front. All of this requires less political risk and capital."
It appears that the Obama administration will have a dove mentality. Hopefully, America's enemies will not take this as a sign that they have a lot more flexibility to do what they want.
The author writes for American Thinker. She has done book reviews, author interviews, and has written a number of national security, political, and foreign policy articles.