Thursday, January 24, 2013

Kerry Appears Before Senate Foreign Relations Committee

President Obama begins his second term in the office with potentially a very different foreign policy team around him.  The new team of a Secretary of State John Kerry and a Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel - no doubts, really, that they will both be easily confirmed - signals a clear choice to stand down.  The team of Bob Gates or Leon Panetta and Hillary Clinton were much more mature, reasoned and attentive to the hot spots in the world.  As Hillary Clinton testified for the last time Wednesday, she warned of this administration's tendency to withdraw rather than engage.  She warned of the emerging strength of the terrorists to do harm in Northern Africa, for example.  

John Kerry appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Thursday morning.  The last time he was doing that was during the Winter Soldier hearings and he was deliberately slandering his fellow soldiers.  He even had the audacity to reference this past performance as a protester was escorted from his hearing:

Most Vietnam veterans, certainly the one living in my house, think of him as a deeply flawed man. His despicable behavior during the Winter Soldier hearings was immoral and dishonest, all for his own political gain.  It was sick. This is the man our president - who proclaims an undying respect for the military - has nominated to be Secretary of State. So be it.

A president nominates his choices to serve in his cabinet.  Elections have consequences. The Senate will do its job of "advise and consent" and he will be accepted as one of their own in that network. Even John McCain, a Vietnam veteran who was tortured as a captured serviceman, said that Kerry would get the job easily, though Kerry would not have been his personal choice for the job. You may note that Kerry is the outgoing Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the committee holding his hearing.

Chuck Hagel will be the token Republican as Secretary of Defense.  Remarks made during his political career in Congress have brought questions and criticism from other sides of the aisle. Thursday Senator Barasso wrote an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal. On television you will see him sitting next to Senator McCain. Just back from a visit to Israel and Prime Minister Netanyahu,  he voiced concern about disparaging remarks made by Hagel while in office and votes taken concerning Israel's enemies.

Since Chuck Hagel, a former Republican senator, was nominated to be the next defense secretary, there is new attention on his many controversial statements. One of them, his remark that "the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people" on Capitol Hill, I found to be particularly offensive and wrong.As a senator required to provide "advice and consent" on his appointment, I recently asked Mr. Hagel about his comment. He apologized for it and explained that he was only commenting on the strength of the lobby. While I respect his apology, I can't respect his explanation. My national-security votes are based on America's national security—not lobbyists' issues, interests or intimidation.
While Mr. Hagel's troublesome and insulting words matter, his policy positions matter even more. He has a record of votes and decisions that are far outside the mainstream of foreign policy supported by both Republicans and Democrats.
Mr. Hagel was one of only two U.S. senators to oppose financial sanctions against Iran in 2001. In 2007, he wrote to President George W. Bush urging "direct, unconditional, and comprehensive talks with Iran." In 2008, he again was one of only two senators to vote against sanctions. That same year, he even implied, in his book "America: Our Next Chapter," that a nuclear Iran might not be so bad because countries with nuclear weapons "will often respond with some degree of responsible, or at least sane, behavior."
Like John Kerry, Chuck Hagel is a political opportunist.  He voted for the war in Iraq and then decided to openly withdraw that support.  He was adamant that the surge would not work, too. The surge proved to be a turning point in the war. He threw his support to Barack Obama in his run for president over John McCain.  He campaigned around the country for Obama and ingratiated himself at every opportunity, laying the groundwork for his current nomination.

Like John Kerry, Chuck Hagel has been consistently wrong on decisions involving foreign policy.  I am certain that he will, however, be the next Secretary of Defense.

Hagel is slowly building support from the Democrats who will vote for him in the Senate.  To date, no Republican has voiced a commitment to voting for his confirmation.  Today after some Democrats came forward with statements of support, Kerry spoke up for Hagel:

Their statements came shortly after Sen. John Kerry, the president's choice for secretary of state, found himself defending Hagel at his confirmation hearing.
"I know Chuck Hagel. I think he is a strong patriotic former senator, and he will be a strong secretary of defense," Kerry said of Hagel, who, like Kerry, served in Vietnam.

The team of Kerry and Hagel will be interesting to watch.  It will be very dangerous for our partner in democracy, Israel, and that is a pity.  While Barack Obama clearly hopes to focus on domestic issues in his second term, this is no time for America to bury its head and withdraw from the world.

Americans are worried about the direction in which our country is going.  This week's polling showed that Americans are the most downbeat about the state of our country since the days of the Jimmy Carter presidency.

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