Confirmation Hearings

01.08.13

Hagel's Views Do Matter

ALEXANDER NATRUSKIN/AFP/Getty Images ()

We've come to that moment in a nomination fight where supporters of a nomination are suddenly seized by forgetfulness about such basic facts as: what the job to be filled actually does.

From Dana Milbank's column in the Washington Post, January 7:

Hagel is worth fighting for. The Republican former senator from Nebraska should and probably will be confirmed by the Senate, despite irresponsible claims that he is anti-Semitic, anti-Israel, anti-gay and a coddler of Iran. Most of that is false and the rest is irrelevant: As head of the Pentagon, Hagel would not determine foreign policy.

What he would do is lead the people who fight wars — and for that, the old infantry sergeant is uniquely qualified.

Savor that, "As head of the Pentagon, Hagel would not determine foreign policy." No, he would not. But he would have substantial control over the information, advice, and policy options available to the person who does determine foreign policy.

Suppose a president were to request an assessment of a hypothetical strike on Iran. Suppose the secretary of defense delivers to him a plan requiring the insertion of US ground forces into Iranian cities to be sure of destroying relevant facilities. That "plan" is as much a veto of a strike as any decision.

Donald Rumsfeld enabled the Iraq war by producing estimates it could be won with as few as 135,000 troops. Had he instead on 300,000, the war would not have occurred: it would have seemed too heavy a lift. (As indeed it proved.)

A Secretary Hagel could similarly thwart policies he disapproved of by magnifying their cost and difficulty. That's why his views matter, and that's why it's so disingenuous to claim they do not.