Chuck Hagel testifies during his confirmation hearing. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite.)
Lots of folks felt that when President Obama picked Chuck Hagel as his secretary of defense, it augured well for the president’s second term. That’s because Hagel, a skeptic of war with Iran, a critic of Israel, and seemingly prepared to make significant cuts in defense spending, would be a breath of fresh air at the Department of Defense.
But it’s worrying, to say the least, that the pro-military hawk who chairs the House Armed Services Committee, Buck McKeon, has suddenly become a fan of Hagel. Is that because Hagel is slyly deceiving the crusty old war hawk while intending, all along, to move left with Obama on defense? Or is Hagel, and is Obama, caving in to the generals and the military-industrial complex? Perhaps we’ll find out on Wednesday, when Hagel delivers a major speech on defense policy?
In a New York Times piece previewing Hagel’s speech, and analyzing the budget challenges for DOD, McKeon was quoted expressing his skepticism about Hagel, which, he said, got worse during the confirmation hearings in the Senate:
“I did not know him well before the nomination, and then the things that I had heard about him, well, I was somewhat apprehensive. Then I watched as he went through the process. And some of my concerns were even strengthened.”
Since then, however, McKeon has watched as Hagel beefed up missile defenses in the Pacific, ostensibly in response to North Korea’s bluster (though Pyongyang has no long-range missiles), and announced that he’ll visit Israel next. Reports the Times:
Mr. McKeon said he has come around on Mr. Hagel, swayed in part by the defense secretary’s announcement that reversed an Obama administration decision that had canceled an expansion of missile defenses. Mr. Hagel instead ordered the Pentagon to spend $1 billion to deploy more interceptors along the Pacific Coast to counter the growing reach of North Korea’s weapons. And Pentagon officials have disclosed that Mr. Hagel’s next foreign trip will open with an alliance-building visit to Israel.
“I’m feeling pretty good about where he is heading now,” Mr. McKeon said.
The $1 billion missile deployment program in the Pacific, of course, may have been designed chiefly to placate hawks after the Obama administration, seeking favor with Russia, canceled a missile-defense expansion in eastern Europe.