In politics, it is rare to find a politician that makes a “perfect fit” for a cabinet position, but if there ever was such a perfect fit, it would be former Senator Chuck Hagel for the position of secretary of Defense. Hagel, the former Republican Senator from Nebraska, was nominated today by President Obama.
He has combat experience — having served in the Vietnam War as an infantry squad leader, he achieved the rank of sergeant and was awarded multiple medals including two Purple Hearts. After leaving the military, Hagel was dedicated to helping American troops and veterans. He was appointed deputy administrator of the Veterans Administration, where he fought for funding for VA programs. Later he served as president and CEO of the USO, saving the organization from financial ruin.
Hagel also had a successful career in the private sector, co-founding a cell phone manufacturing company and serving as CEO of American Information Systems.
In short, Hagel has the military and administrative experience needed to be America’s next secretary of Defense.
But the best reasons that he should be our next Defense Secretary come from his policy side.
Hagel’s experience in Vietnam enforced an important principle that he fought for throughout his Senate career: we should not put our troops in harm’s way unless combat is necessary. He was early to question the War in Iraq, even when it was unpopular with the Republican Party, saying, “To question your government is not unpatriotic—to not question your government is unpatriotic.” In both Republican and Democratic controlled Senates he fought for transparency in the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and encouraged open debate rather than quick votes such important issues.
His Iraq policy itself was unique, standing apart from the mainstream Republican and Democratic plans at the time. Rather than withdraw as soon as possible or stay indefinitely, Hagel advocated for moving our troops out of the areas of civil war and to the borders. This would ensure that terrorists did not flee or enter the country, while leaving the Iraqis to resolve the inner conflicts, a job that they, not the U.S., were best suited for.
Hagel also fought for the return of civil liberties and the closure of Guantanamo Bay, emphasizing his oath to honor the Constitution, not his party.
In keeping with his commitment to help our servicemen, he was one of the principle co-sponsors of the Post-9/11 GI Bill, which gave funding for the education of American troops who served after the September 11 attacks.
Whether it was the wars, civil liberties, Iran, or other issues, Senator Hagel was usually ahead of the curve, advocating a policy that was unpopular at the time, but ultimately the right course of action. As a lone senator, he was unable to change many of the failed policies in place, but as Secretary of Defense, he can make necessary changes where he has power, and he can advise the President to take action where he does not.
It is not often that a person comes along with just the right policy, combat, and administrative experience for the job of secretary of Defense. Chuck Hagel could play an amazing role in shaping American military policy, and it is time that the President, the Senate, and the American people rally around him with their support.
By Nathan Inks and Charles Hinderliter