Obama picks his man for the Pentagon

Here I am in today’s Crikey on the nomination of Chuck Hagel to be the new American defence secretary:

Congress was already shaping up for a busy couple of months, with ongoing budget issues and planned moves on gun control. Now the Senate will also have to deal with a confirmation debate. For, despite the fact that he is a former colleague, Hagel is not popular with the Republicans (he endorsed Obama in last year’s election) and his approval is not guaranteed.

Most of the publicity about Hagel so far has focused on his allegedly “anti-Israel” views, but the issues involved are much broader than that. In fact, the tone of the controversy merely serves to confirm Hagel’s point that the obsession with Israel tends to distort the whole national security debate in America.

What makes Hagel such an interesting nominee is that he seems to be a sceptic about a lot of the received wisdom on defence issues. With politicians on both sides generally afraid to touch military spending or to criticise the Pentagon, Hagel has been a sometimes lonely voice of reason, criticising the rush to military solutions. As Juan Cole says in a typically thoughtful endorsement, “Hagel is cautious about wars and what they can achieve, and has become more cautious over time”.

With automatic spending cuts for the military scheduled to come in on 1 March, and an Israeli election on 22 January that looks like shifting that country further to the right, Hagel could be a much-needed voice of reason. As I say, “it would be very valuable to have a credible defence secretary arguing that the Pentagon does not in fact need all the money that Congress keeps throwing at it, and that the wars the Republicans are keen to engage the country in – most obviously against Iran – would be foolish and unnecessary.”

Read the whole thing here.


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