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Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE) leaves a news conference in Omaha, Nebraska March 12, 2007. REUTERS/Dave Kaup
Former Nebraska Senator, Republican Chuck Hagel
The potential nomination of former Senator of Nebraska Chuck Hagel has pretty much gotten out of control.

In quintessential strange bedfellows mode, we can find Talking Points Memo's Josh Marshall, Glenn Greenwald and Pat Buchanan (now reduced to posting at World Net Daily where he belongs) defending Hagel from what they see as unfair attacks from the right on his views on Israel. It is probably correct that the Israel objections from the terrible trio of Sens. McCain, Graham and Lieberman and others are unfair, but it doesn't mean objections to the man are incorrect. (See: broken clock.)

Objections from the right have now totally eclipsed those from the left, but Markos Moulitsas spoke for many when he said on Dec 14 "No Republicans at Defense":

Hagel is a Republican who voted for all of George W. Bush's pet wars. .... And yes, while he has reneged on his past support for our nation's disastrous wars, there are plenty of good qualified Democrats who weren't idiotic enough to support them in the first place.

It's time for Democrats to embrace the fact that yes, they know what the hell they're doing on matters of national security.

Markos kicked off a campaign to raise progressive objections to Hagel. And it is very strange that Obama pretty clearly won the foreign policy and national security debate, and yet, does not seem inclined to grant his party the mantel of leadership on those issues.

The right's Israel-based objections seem to fit a constant and tiresome Republican talking point. Way back in 2008 primaries, The Weekly Standard wrote about "Obama's Jewish Problem", the New York Times and numerous other outlets did that year as well. And it gets trotted out with great regularity including this cycle, like this from CNN. The trouble with this stubborn meme is it refuses to actually manifest itself in any measurable way. The Jews stubbornly continue to vote for Obama by overwhelming super-majorities.

On issues of Obama's supposed lack of support for Israel, the right wing appears to be in an endless chorus of crying "Wolf!" Hagel has just become the latest focus of that trope.

The whole dust-up seems to endow a lot more power in the Def Sec to set policy than he probably has. Sure, he's an influential voice in the national security and foreign policy team. But the inertia on America's Israel policy comes from Congress, lobbyists--both foreign policy and military. There's also the "conventional wisdom" that informs every beltway bloviator, who are able to create a self-fulfilling reality. And the inertia of many, many decades probably doesn't leave a lot of room for any single player to move the needle too dramatically. I'm not convinced any president has much latitude. What is this supposed outcome, Israel is attacked and America shrugs? We stop sending foreign aid? We stop sharing intelligence and arms? None of this is going to happen no matter who is Def Sec.

The Def Sec has far more unilateral latitude to influence internal policies of the military than bigger picture stuff like Afghanistan and Israel foreign policy, which require massive coalitions to change course, and these coalitions can be built more easily and effectively directly from the White House. And on some of the major issues being debated in military circles, Hagel has proved himself over his long career to be no friend to those constituencies, to put it mildly.

(Continue reading below the fold.)

There is the matter of his rather awful record in the Senate where he racked up a 0% rating from NARAL, 11% from the NAACP, and 14% with National Organization for Women, 0% with Human Rights Campaign, indicating little, if any, support for the concerns of women, people of color or the LGBT community.

The general discussion of his 1998 remarks that LGBT people are unfit to serve their country when they are "openly, aggressively gay" has provided more heat than light.

The bickering has focused on whether Hagel should be "forgiven" because of his politically conveniently timed apology or not (an apology which was not actually delivered directly to the man who was the focus of the attack).

Lost, and almost totally unaddressed is what are the policy implications of Sen. Hagel's alleged evolution on LGBT issues?

Reports to the contrary, LGBT equality is not yet a done deal in the military. There is still the matter of partner benefits. There still remain a handful of regulations that could be revised independent of the Defense of Marriage act that could bring some equity of compensation and benefits to gay and lesbian servicemembers. The second column in the table below are all benefits that may be endowed to gay and lesbian servicemembers but remain denied due only to Department of Defense foot-dragging:

Included in the discretionary benefits currently denied are spousal identication cards, cited in the Pentagon's own Working Group study as not requiring DOMA repeal to deliver. Moving on this might have avoided the recent and ugly Fort Bragg incident of spousal discrimination. This case placed a sharp focus that leadership can provide guidance, or they can remain apathetic and silent, as Fort Bragg's leadership has chosen to be in the face of arbitrary discrimination against some military families. The Department of Defense's sloth in revising relevant regulations will enable situations like this to continue into the foreseeable future.

Chief Warrant Officer Charlie Morgan
Consider the case of cancer-stricken Chief Warrant Officer Charlie Morgan of the New Hampshire National Guard. Governor-Elect Maggie Hassan announced Morgan will lead the pledge of Allegiance at her Inaugural Ceremony. It's a great honor, but with only months to live, Morgan would like nothing more than to know her wife and daughter's future are secured by her Veteran's Benefits, as any parent or spouse would wish.

Would Hagel support any measure to deliver equity to families like Morgan's? No one knows.

No one seems inclined to ask if Hagel would consider the status quo acceptable, or if partner benefits are among the issues he'd like to see addressed over his potential tenure? Will the military voluntarily revise the necessary rules and regulations, and would Def. Sec. Hagel support or oppose that? That is really a much more relevant question than whether he really feels bad about being mean to Ambassador nominee James Hormel 15 years ago.

For military women, progress continues in fits and starts. Legislation that would require the discharge of servicemembers who have been found to have sexually assaulted other service members just passed Congress. This should be a no-brainer, but a report shows that almost as often as not—38 percent of the time—this has not historically been the case.

And Leon Panetta is arguably the first Secretary of Defense to take concrete action to address disgraceful issue of high rates of sexual assault in the military.

But, the latest bad news on sexual assault rates was just delivered Dec. 27; still way too unacceptably high.

About half of women sent to Iraq or Afghanistan report being sexually harassed, and nearly one in four says she was sexually assaulted, according to new research by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

It has never been the case that nothing can be done, it has always been there case that there is just no political will to do it. Is Hagel the man to follow through on Panetta's overtures?

Women's access to abortion services in the case of rape was also recently affirmed by legislation. This bill attracted Panetta's objections to the dismay of women's servicemember advocates, so clearly there's still a lot of work to be done on this issue in moving the military culture to be more supportive of women.

Even in the face of this legislative affirmation, half the battle for women's choice is not legality but access. Hagel's 0% rating from NARAL and strong pro-life views lend little confidence that there won't be serious obstructionism from the Department of Defense in implementing this mandate from Congress.

The American Civil Liberties Union has also placed the role of women in combat into the national conversation. They filed a lawsuit, contending that denying women combat positions has the affect of creating a brass ceiling. Will Republican Hagel work to open opportunities for women to advance in the ranks at the DOD? No one knows.

A lot of this stuff boils down to political will to prioritize these issues. Whether they are "important" enough to make actual policy changes, or pushed aside in favor of "more important things." There's really nothing in Hagel's history that suggests he cares a bit about any of these concerns and much to suggest he'd be an enemy to progress.

In the 2012 election, Democrats quite effectively made the case that the Republican party was the enemy of women, people of color and gays, and to a very good electoral outcome, check the crosstabs. Could the administration honestly expect the base to rally around an pick who has never proven himself to be a friend or ally to any of the constituencies Democrats aggressively courted over the last year?

The expectation just weeks after the election is extraordinary. Sen. Claire McCaskill isn't the only one getting whiplash around here.

It's hard to picture who's excited for Hagel, or why anyone cares whether the Hagel trial balloon sinks or floats.

Mostly the argument for Hagel seems to be that only Chuck Hagel and only Chuck Hagel alone is capable of stopping the neocons, and anyway, any other pick would be much worse.

Chris Hayes asked, "Is Hagel the ideal figure to lead the Defense Department?" It's hard to imagine there is an affirmative argument he is.

Sign the petition: President Obama, please select a Democrat as your Secretary of Defense.

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