The election season now well behind us, a newly inaugurated Barack Obama begins his second and final term as President of the United States. His first term was widely praised for having successfully handled foreign policy thanks to the strong team in place since 2008 including former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. With the transition to the second term comes a reshuffling of the cabinet. But like every occasion in modern American politics, the Republicans are putting up a fight, this time attempting to block their comrade Chuck Hagel from being appointed the country’s Secretary of Defense.
SECRETARY OF STATE JOHN KERRY
John Kerry was a powerful Senator who achieved national prominence during the failed 2004 presidential campaign against W Bush. In 2009 he rose to be the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He had been a senator for nearly 30 years before assuming the role of Secretary of State on January 29th, 2013. He was a shoe in, and only 3 votes of 97 dissented.
Kerry’s international chops are well known. He received three Purple Hearts during his service in Vietnam, and is well respected on both sides of the aisle. It was no wonder that nearly all senate Republicans supported his nomination, but perhaps not entirely for genuine reasons. Kerry’s national fame and high position meant that the Democrats had an immovable obstacle at the head of the senate. His influence extended far. Now that he has left the legislature, the Democrats are essentially down a man; there are few other Democrats as powerful as he was (and still is, but not on a lawmaking level).
For the country, he is undoubtably a solid pick in his new role. His anti-war stance during the 2004 presidential election — reinforced by his heroics in battle — means that the country will enjoy leadership that knows the consequences of war firsthand. Interestingly enough, he is the first Secretary of State to be a white male since 1997.
CHUCK HAGEL’S APPOINTMENT UNSURE
Conversely, and somewhat uncharacteristically, Republicans have decided to focus their energy on blocking Obama’s nomination for Secretary of Defense, former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel. Republicans have already been successful in preventing one of Obama’s early nominees, UN Ambassador Susan Rice for Secretary of State from gaining office. Now the fate of Hagel’s nomination is uncertain at best.
The primary opposition to Hagel’s nomination comes from Hagel’s criticism of the Iraq war and its consequences. By 2005 he had become very outspoken, mocking Dick Cheney and comparing the war there to the war in Vietnam — something he knows a lot about during his combat experience there and two Purple Hearts. He opposed W Bush’s move to send a surge of 20,000 more troops to Iraq, claimed that Guantanamo Bay is ruining America’s image abroad, and all round referred to the W Bush presidency as: “the lowest in capacity, in capability, in policy, in consensus—almost every area.” He has our vote.
But the real reason does not come down much to ideology. There are many in the Republican Party who disagreed with W Bush but still held to his tight approach to national security, including supporting the Patriot Act like Hagel did. But Hagel took it a step further and in a sense broke with the party in 2008 during John McCain’s failed attempt for the presidency. Hagel did not endorse McCain; he did not support McCain’s handling of foreign policy. Now that it is Hagel who must face the Senate voters, guess who “questions” Hagel’s foreign policy chops?
The shame is that Hagel understands the consequences of war just like McCain does, but Hagel never got to the highest levels of the Republican Party where supporting everything that W Bush did was mandatory for party cohesion. Alas Hagel is what the Republican Party needs more of: free thinkers who demand smart defense that parallels the ideals the nation was founded upon.