By claiming that “retiring” defense secretary Chuck Hagel “wasn’t up to the the job,” White House officials are finally echoing criticisms from Republican lawmakers during Hagel’s 2013 confirmation hearing. Talking heads from across the political spectrum are now nodding in agreement, noting that Hagel’s inexperience and policy differences with the administration make his departure unsurprising.
But many were singing a different tune during Hagel’s confirmation period, shortly after President Obama’s reelection. At the time, the Nebraska senator’s defenders came out of the woodwork to slam the campaign against him, which largely centered around Hagel’s lack of Pentagon know-how and supposed hostility towards Israel.
Media types were among Hagel’s most vociferous defenders. “I’m kinda glad [William] Kristol is championing the anti-Hagel fight,” tweeted Eric Boehlert, a writer at Media Matters for America, in January 2013. ”It reminds everyone how he and necons got EVERYTHING WRONG about Iraq War.” MSNBC’s Chris Hayes tore into Republicans for their “demagoguery and bullying” during Hagel’s February confirmation hearing.
Then-Guardian reporter Glenn Greenwald called criticism of Hagel part of a “smear campaign” headed by the pro-Israel lobby. “Hagel is one of the very, very few prominent national politicians from either party who has been brave enough to question and dissent from the destructive bipartisan orthodoxies on foreign policy,” Greenwald wrote. “If this nomination actually happens, this will be one of Obama’s best appointments and boldest steps of his presidency.”
Democratic lawmakers and former officials also lent Hagel their unqualified support. Hagel, insisted former Carter adviser Zbigniew Brezezinski, “would infuse into our foreign policy what is very much needed . . . strategic significance — that is to say, a preoccupation with the problems that we’re slowly, collectively sliding into.” Former secretary of state Colin Powell called Hagel “superbly qualified,” claiming he’d do a “great job as secretary of defense.”
Rhode Island senator Jack Reed — now rumored to be on the defense secretary short list — said Hagel ”has a successful business record. He is an entrepreneur who’s succeeded. He’s also good in terms of recognizing the need to delegate. . . . You have to listen as well as talk and you have to be decisive, and he’s certainly decisive. So, he has many intellectual and temperamental qualities that would make him a great secretary of defense.”
Former defense secretary Leon Panetta, whom Hagel replaced, called the senator “smart and capable.” Democratic New Mexico senator Tom Udall said Hagel possessed “a demonstrated understanding for the nuances of foreign policy and national security.” And Illinois senator Dick Durbin praised Hagel, saying he “can understand why President Obama has chosen him . . . I certainly come to his nomination with a positive feeling, that the president has chosen an excellent person to lead that department.”
The Senate voted 58–41 to confirm Hagel in February 2013, with just four Republicans joining all 53 Democrats in backing the Nebraska senator for secretary of defense.