Sen. Chuck Hagel addresses audience members at the nomination announcement for Hagel as the next Secretary of Defense. (Flickr / Secretary of Defense)
If President Obama is determined to select a former senator to serve as Secretary of Defense, the ideal pick would be someone who at the very least saw through the flimsy arguments for authorizing George Bush’s war with Iraq.
That excludes Chuck Hagel, the Vietnam veteran and former Republican senator who Obama has tapped for the Pentagon post.
In 2002, as the senator from Nebraska, Hagel voted with the Bush-Cheney White House on that one, despite overwhelming evidence that the war was unnecessary and unwise, and that the pre-authorization was antithetical to the constitutional premise that wars must be declared by Congress.
Twenty-three senators—almost a quarter of the chamber—got the issue right. Their number included not just twenty-one Democrats but also a Republican (Rhode Island’s Lincoln Chafee) and a former Republican serving as an independent (Vermont’s Jim Jeffords). The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Michigan Democrat Carl Levin, opposed the legislation. So too did the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Florida’s Bob Graham. In the House, 133 members, including six Republicans from across the ideological spectrum of the party (moderates, conservatives and libertarians) voted “no.”
And in Illinois, a young state senator told a Chicago rally:
I don’t oppose all wars. My grandfather signed up for a war the day after Pearl Harbor was bombed, fought in Patton’s army. He fought in the name of a larger freedom, part of that arsenal of democracy that triumphed over evil.
I don’t oppose all wars. After September 11, after witnessing the carnage and destruction, the dust and the tears, I supported this administration’s pledge to hunt down and root out those who would slaughter innocents in the name of intolerance, and I would willingly take up arms myself to prevent such tragedy from happening again.
I don’t oppose all wars. What I am opposed to is a dumb war. What I am opposed to is a rash war. What I am opposed to is the cynical attempt by Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz and other armchair, weekend warriors in this administration to shove their own ideological agendas down our throats, irrespective of the costs in lives lost and in hardships borne.
What I am opposed to is the attempt by political hacks like Karl Rove to distract us from a rise in the uninsured, a rise in the poverty rate, a drop in the median income, to distract us from corporate scandals and a stock market that has just gone through the worst month since the Great Depression.