There is an epic battle going on, mostly in the shadows, over President Obama’s reported intention to appoint former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense. Robert Naiman describes some of the stakes here:
“On Afghanistan, the AP notes- ("Pentagon front-runner Hagel has strong Obama ties, likely favors rapid Afghanistan withdrawal "):
Former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel is a contrarian Republican moderate and decorated Vietnam combat veteran who is likely to support a more rapid withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. [...] Often seeing the Afghan war through the lens of his service in Vietnam, Hagel has declared that militaries are "built to fight and win wars, not bind together failing nations." In a radio interview this year, he spoke broadly of the need for greater diplomacy as the appropriate path in Afghanistan, noting that "the American people want out" of the war. …
"On Iran, the AP noted that ‘Hagel has criticized discussion of a military strike by either the U.S. or Israel against Iran. He also has backed efforts to bring Iran to the table for talks on future peace in Afghanistan.’”
"On the Pentagon budget, a Washington Post editorial noted that in September 2011 Hagel called for cuts to the Pentagon budget. .."
And on the battle within the Beltway:
“The outcome of this battle is likely to be determined soon. If Obama nominates Hagel, easy Senate confirmation is expected. But it's possible that in the absence of a sufficiently broad and vigorous response, the neocon Swift Boaters could kick up enough dust to convince some of the Obama political people that, even though they could win the fight easily, it's not worth the fight, and life would be much easier politically if they would just appease the right and appoint someone the right won't object to, and move on to other things."
"That outcome would be a shame, because far more than any other likely Obama nominee, Hagel represents the foreign policy that the majority of Americans voted for in 2008 and 2012: less war, more diplomacy.”
And now New York Congressman Elliot Engel, former Chair of the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee and the new ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, has publicly confronted his party’s President to oppose a Hagel nomination.
What about Latin America? It seems that there are objections from the right here too:
On Thursday that chorus was joined by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), who is reportedly concerned about Hagel’s past support for ending the US boycott on Cuba’s communist regime. Rubio’s spokesman Alex Conant told the Washington Free Beacon that ‘promoting democracy in Latin America is a priority for Senator Rubio, and he’s put holds on other administration nominees over the issue. If President Obama were to nominate Senator Hagel, for a cabinet position, I’m sure we would have questions about Cuba positions.
So, it looks like people who care about the Western Hemisphere have a stake in this fight, too. President Obama didn’t change policy in this hemisphere from that of the Bush Administration. But he paid a political price for that, as his administration was isolated from almost all of Latin America, e.g., for helping the coup government in Honduras legitimize itself. In addition to the Cuba embargo, there is the so-called “drug war” and other issues where the Obama administration may feel pressure to take some steps in a positive direction, and it would be good to have a Secretary of Defense who is at least more open-minded than a lot of Washington’s foreign policy establishment. And of course, it would send a terrible message to the country and the world to see President Obama cave once again to the neocon right, as if elections here don’t really matter.