David Frum

02.25.13

Make Democrats Own Their Hagel-Flop

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images ()

At CNN, I propose a way for Republicans to handle Hagel.

Republicans face two decisions about the nomination of Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense: how to vote and whether to filibuster.

The vote decision should be easy: Nay, and for three reasons:

1) Hagel's history of contentious comments about the policies of the state of Israel is not merely obnoxious. That record will also severely impede his effectiveness in his portfolio. Israel is the United States' most capable strategic partner in the world's most turbulent region. Successful U.S. policy requires effective cooperation with Israel. In the 1990-91 Gulf War, Saddam Hussein attempted to wreck the U.S.-led alliance to rescue Kuwait by firing missiles at Israel. The United States asked Israel not to retaliate. This was an extraordinary and excruciating request. It's impossible to imagine the United States exercising similar restraint. Yet Israel complied.

Israel complied on that occasion -- and dozens of others -- because of the deep trust and respect between Israel and the United States. The Hagel nomination will strain that trust and complicate U.S. policy.

2) Hagel has put himself on record during the Bush administration, opposing a U.S. strike against Iranian nuclear facilities. It's not a problem that he thinks that way. It is a very big problem that he has spoken that way. Remember, the Obama administration insists that "all options are on the table" against Iran. It's important that the Iranians believe that. Appointing a secretary of defense who has already stated his opposition to the use of force severely corrodes the credibility of U.S. threats of force.

3) The next secretary of defense will preside over the steepest build-down of U.S. forces since the end of the Korean War. Reducing forces while preserving strength will present a daunting managerial challenge. Nothing in Hagel's career suggests he is equal to the task; and Hagel's underwhelming confirmation hearing strongly suggests he will not be equal to it. I can't remember any previous Cabinet appointee who handed in so dismaying a performance under senatorial questioning. Secretary of defense is too important a job for a man who has himself raised so many doubts about his basic competence.

Of course, the Democratic majority holds the votes to confirm Hagel even if Republicans unanimously vote "nay." The only way Republicans can stop the nomination is by filibuster. Should they? My answer to that is again: No.

Read the rest at CNN.