Hagel pick telegraphs weakness
Bret Stephens is the foreign affairs columnist and a deputy editorial page editor for The Wall Street Journal. Stephens spoke to the Trib regarding the implications of former Republican U.S. Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska becoming Defense secretary.
Q: You recently wrote a column on Hagel that essentially labeled him a mediocrity. What makes you think he doesn't deserve the reputation of being a latter-day Dwight Eisenhower?
A: I think it was very difficult for any fair-minded observer, Republican or Democrat or in between, to look at (Hagel's confirmation hearing) and think that there is a man superbly qualified to take the job of the secretary of Defense. There are a lot of jobs in Washington that you can pretty much bluff your way through. If you are a bad secretary of Commerce, the republic will survive. If you are a bad secretary of Transportation, people probably aren't going to notice unless you are really egregious. Secretary of Defense is one job in Washington that is a non-BS job. It's not a job for guys whose specialty, when it comes to defense issues, is going on Sunday talk shows and delighting in the fact they are the contrarian Republican.
Q: Was it startling to you during the confirmation hearing that Hagel said he didn't even consider Defense secretary to be a policymaking position?
A: That was the most astonishing comment, wasn't it? It's hard to think of a more important job in Washington. The secretary of Defense is in the national command authority in the event of a nuclear war, and he's saying, “I'm really not going to matter all that much.” Well then, who is going to matter more? The president, obviously, but who else?
Q: How do you believe Hagel's ascension to Defense secretary would be viewed by other nations, particularly Israel?
A: The choice of a secretary of Defense is also, in a sense, an act of diplomacy. Our allies and our adversaries around the world look to see who the president has picked and ask themselves what that pick says about the president's foreign policy priorities.
If you are an Israeli decision maker, you look at a Chuck Hagel pick and you think, “I think this means that when the president says he is serious about a prevention policy toward Iran, he really doesn't mean it.” (Obama) has just picked a secretary who seems to be unaware that there is a prevention policy and who further has a long paper record of opposing any kind of military strikes against the Iranians. So the Israeli calculation becomes, “Maybe we should freelance our security, maybe we should do it on our own, because we're not sure (Obama) has our back.”
Q: Do you get the sense that some countries believe the U.S. is about to install in a position of strength a person of significant weakness?
A: If I were sitting in a defense ministry in Tehran or Beijing or Moscow, I would be taking heart from Hagel's nomination. If I were in their shoes, that would be the conclusion I would draw.
Q: What do you think happens when Hagel presumably gets the job?
A: I would say that with Chuck Hagel as secretary of Defense, America becomes a less secure country. Our enemies become bolder, our friends become disheartened.
Eric Heyl is a staff writer for Trib Total Media (412-320-7857 or firstname.lastname@example.org).
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Shaler man charged with homicide, abuse of corpse in McKeesport woman’s death
- Historic WWII-era landing ship tank docking at Heinz Field
- Gas boom brings successes, struggles to W.Va. communities
- 2 injured in Strip District shooting
- Timing drives former KHL star Plotnikov
- Healthy, confident Steelers LB Shazier ready for full speed ahead
- Independent bookshops find ways to keep going with new owners
- New Orleans slow to heal 10 years after Hurricane Katrina
- Pirates show depth in earning victory over Rockies; Polanco has big night
- Cops nab 4 in Monessen drug hangout
- ATI picketer injured at Harrison mill