Chuck Hagel is not yet gone, and will not be forgotten

Chuck Hagel is a friend and a man I truly admire.  It took two acts to place him in a group of truly admirable individuals.

The first was his decorated combat service in a very unpopular war.  He has two purple hearts from decorated service as a U.S. Army infantry sergeant in Vietnam.  Second, he resigned on a principle.

As a proud member of a small group of veterans dissenting from the “baby boom” (accent on baby) generation who were vilifying Vietnam service, Chuck emerged as a soft-spoken veterans’ advocate.

In 1981, then-Deputy VA Administer Hagel put the troops first, because to him war is not an abstract, academic “cubical commando” exercise.

Mr. Hagel’s two Purple Hearts and Combat Infantryman’s Badge (CIB) serving as a grunt in Vietnam gave him the experience and moral courage in 1981 to keep his faith to the DVA motto, “To care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan” (President Abraham Lincoln).  Chuck Hagel earned the everlasting gratitude of his fellow Vietnam veterans and was way out front on the nasty, life-altering, and deadly effects of Agent Orange.

An article by a Washington Post reporter insightfully captured a very rare career move made at the highest level of political appointments: a resignation truly based on the principle of trying to protect the lives and well-being of the troops and their families.

In 1981, President Ronald Reagan appointed him as deputy administrator of the Veterans Administration. But he quit after clashing with his boss, Robert Nimmo, who curtailed veterans’ benefits and compared the side effects of exposure to Agent Orange to “a little teenage acne.”

Since those days, often in D.C. our paths crossed, and it was a proud moment when the citizens of Nebraska elected Senator Hagel.  There is often a very legitimate statement made about Americans from the Midwest by putting the state’s name and then follow it with the word nice.  “Nebraska Nice” is how Senator Hagel behaved up close and personal.  Many can disagree with him on issues, but a sense of politeness radiates from his personality.  In D.C., this is no small thing.

So vilifying Chuck on the way out is not just a mistake, but also, as the cliché goes, a significant political blunder.  A political heads-up to the Democratic Party: having your party’s leader countenance the trashing of a combat wounded veteran is not a good idea.  It creates tremendous blow-back that crosses party lines.

Five Senators Rebuke Bush for Criticism of McCain

"He came home, forgot us," Mr. Burch said.

In the letter to Mr. Bush, the senators said: "We are writing to express our dismay at the misinformed accusations leveled by your surrogate."

"These allegations are absolutely false," said the letter signed by Senators Max Cleland of Georgia, Bob Kerrey of Nebraska, John Kerry of Massachusetts and Charles S. Robb of Virginia, all Democrats, and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, a Republican and one of Mr. McCain's few supporters in the Senate.

But some criticism came from a Bush supporter. Edward T. Timperlake, who was assistant secretary of veterans affairs under Mr. Bush's father, President George Bush, said in an interview that the criticism of Mr. McCain was undeserved.

Mr. Timperlake, who is supporting Mr. Bush, said that Mr. McCain has a good record on veterans affairs and that "attacking John McCain on veterans affairs is just wrong. It's over the line."

Since Chuck has many friends still in the Senate and he is staying until his successor is confirmed, there is a confirmation dynamic at play.

Whoever is nominated will undergo the constitutionally empowered Senate “Advise and Consent” process.  Before the final “yeas and nays,” the up-or-down vote is taken, in preparation for confirmation hearings, there is significant back-and-forth over “Questions for the Record.”  QFR are a very powerful tool for the Senate to get transparency on what the Obama administration has done on national security.

The individual who clears the response to the Senate on QFR, excluding those personally specific to the nominee, is Defense Secretary Hagel.  There is a real trap that may be sprung.  A senator can wait until QFR are submitted for the record, probably heavily edited by White House National Security Council, and then ask for the SecDef's draft as it left his desk.  (I am sure Chuck will not object.)  And then compare the documents: POW!

So as this holiday season is upon us, Chuck Hagel will symbolically visit the White House as the Ghost of Christmas Future.  It will be very interesting to see if they learned anything.  I doubt there is a happy ending with a Tiny Tim wishing America “God Bless Us Everyone” in the lot of them.

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