Former Republican senator Chuck Hagel was hailed as a brave Republican maverick and became a liberal media favorite during the George W. Bush years, for comparing the Iraq War to Vietnam and serving as a general thorn in the Republican president's side. Journalist Dave Weigel likened this 2006 Hagel profile in the New York Times Magazine by former Times executive editor Joseph Lelyveld to "a hagiography master class." Now Obama is picking a fight with the GOP by nominating him Secretary of Defense, and New York Times reporters are still serving as reliable reinforcements.
Monday's off-lead introductory piece by Scott Shane and David Sanger was supportive of Hagel, as is the liberal media in general. The Times went so far as downplay anti-Jewish and anti-gay comments Hagel made during the Clinton administration about an ambassadorial candidate to Luxembourg, James Hormel.
When President Obama nominates Chuck Hagel, the maverick Republican and former senator from Nebraska, to be his next secretary of defense, he will be turning to a trusted ally whose willingness to defy party loyalty and conventional wisdom won his admiration both in the Senate and on a 2008 tour of war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The choice of Mr. Hagel, the first Vietnam veteran to be nominated for the post, would add a prominent Republican to Mr. Obama’s cabinet, providing some political cover for the president’s plans to exit Afghanistan and make cuts to a military budget that has roughly doubled since the 2001 terrorist attacks.
But Republicans made clear on Sunday that they would give Mr. Hagel a rough ride on his path to the Pentagon, questioning his support for Israel, his seriousness about the Iranian nuclear threat and his commitment to an adequate defense budget. And Mr. Obama may also face difficulties from some Democrats who are wary of negative comments that Mr. Hagel made more than a decade ago about gays.
Rather than turning to a defense technocrat, Mr. Obama decided on an independent politician whose service in Vietnam gave him a lifelong skepticism about the commitment of American lives in overseas conflicts. Like Mr. Obama, Mr. Hagel supported the war in Afghanistan but opposed the troop surge in Iraq under President George W. Bush.
That's understating the case. Hagel not only opposed the surge, which vastly improved the situation in Iraq, but called it “the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam.”
Mr. Hagel, 66, served as an enlisted man in Vietnam, won two Purple Hearts and still carries bits of shrapnel in his chest. He was the co-founder of a cellular telephone company and headed an investment banking firm before being elected to the Senate in 1996. He retired in 2009 and now teaches at Georgetown University and serves as chairman of the Atlantic Council, a centrist foreign policy group.
In July 2008, during the presidential campaign, Mr. Hagel accompanied Mr. Obama, who was then in the Senate, on a six-day trip to Afghanistan, Iraq, Jordan and Kuwait. When Senator John McCain, the Republican presidential nominee that year, asserted that Mr. Obama’s motive for the trip was political, Mr. Hagel strongly defended Mr. Obama, saying in a television interview that Mr. McCain was “on thin ground” in trying to impugn Mr. Obama’s patriotism.
John McCain himself certainly didn't get a pass from the Times for being a Vietnam Veteran and war hero after he won the Republican nomination in 2008.
The White House is calculating that opposition to Mr. Hagel may be loud but not broad and that in end the Senate will confirm him. Administration officials argued that voting against a Republican war hero to run the Defense Department would not be easy for fellow Republicans, and they are confident that disgruntled Democrats will ultimately not deny their president his choice.
Shane and Sanger again dismissed the anti-gay comment from Hagel as a conservative political ploy and ancient history to boot (would they give a Republican president's nominee a similar pass?).
In efforts to spur liberals to oppose the nomination, Mr. Hagel’s critics have also focused on a comment he made in the late 1990s, opposing a Clinton administration ambassadorial nominee for being “openly, aggressively gay,” and his past stances on gay rights issues.
Mr. Hagel has since apologized for the remark and in a recent statement said he supported the right of gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military. Gay rights groups like the Human Rights Campaign that tend to lean Democratic have not yet taken a position on Mr. Hagel’s nomination. But another gay group, the Log Cabin Republicans, has been vocal in its opposition to Mr. Hagel.
White House officials noted that Mr. Hagel apologized for comments offending Israel backers and said opposing him because of his Iraq stance would not help war hawks since Mr. Obama, who opposed the invasion from the start, would simply pick another like-minded nominee. As for his opposition to a gay nominee, officials said it would be hard to imagine a Nebraska Republican whose views had not evolved in the last decade.
Mark Landler followed up on Tuesday with "In Fending Off Critics, Obama Points to Hagel As Vietnam War Hero."
In his effusive endorsement of Chuck Hagel as his choice for secretary of defense on Monday, President Obama set in motion a White House campaign that officials predict will overcome weeks of accusations that the Republican former senator from Nebraska is anti-Israel, antigay and soft on Iran.
The president’s message seemed intended in particular for the conservative critics of Mr. Hagel, including Senator John McCain of Arizona, who have warned that he will face a bruising confirmation battle. White House officials said that Republicans, whatever their policy disagreements, would find it difficult to vote against an acknowledged war hero.
Republican and some Democratic senators predict Mr. Hagel will still face tough questions about his views on Israel, Iran, and negotiating with Islamic militants. He has also faced criticism from gay rights organizations because of remarks he made 14 years ago -- for which he has since apologized -- about an openly gay diplomat.
Landler helpfully forwarded lame pro-Hagel talking points directly from the White House.
On Monday, White House officials rounded up examples of what they said showed the hypocrisy of the senator’s critics. In e-mails to reporters, they noted that Dick Cheney, the Republican former vice president; television news networks; and The Washington Times had all used the phrase “Jewish lobby” without generating a furor.
Mr. Hagel has said positive things about Israel, too, and White House officials were quick to note them. While Mr. McCain expressed “serious concerns,” officials noted that in 2006, he said Mr. Hagel would make “a great secretary of state.”