Tahlequah Daily Press

February 18, 2013

Give Hagel an up-down vote


TAHLEQUAH — What does the nomination of former Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel as U.S. defense secretary have to do with President Obama’s actions in the wake of the raid on America’s diplomatic mission in Libya?

Nothing. But like so many other people who have aspired to positions of power within one presidential administration or another, he has fallen victim to political posturing.

Last week, the Senate came up one person short to give Hagel the ballyhooed “up-or-down” vote, although supporters have pledged to revisit the nomination after Congress’ upcoming break. That these people deserve any type of break is almost laughable, because it would be difficult to cite any significant accomplishments this once-venerable body has made over the past many months.

Hagel, who held his Nebraska Senate seat for two terms and is a twice-wounded Vietnam combat veteran, is imminently qualified. It’s true he stepped on the toes of some of his more conservative colleagues by crossing party lines. Back then, compromise, gentility and bipartisanship were expected. But these days, it seems civility has been tossed out the window.

Many folks will remember not long ago that President George Bush put up a few controversial nominees for various posts, and Democrats were using stalling tactics to keep them out. Republicans repeatedly clamored for the “up-or-down” vote on Bush’s picks, and complained about how unfair it was that the president’s agenda was being held hostage. Now the shoe is on the other foot, and some of the same Republicans in Congress who decried delays under Bush are leading the pack against Obama.

Part of the “problem” with Hagel relates to statements and votes he’s made in the past when it comes to Israel, Iran, Iraq and nuclear weapons. It would seem even the most subtle criticism of Israel is enough to get an official blacklisted these days. The same goes for anyone who appears, even for the slightest moment, to express a dovish view when it comes to those tyrannical Middle Eastern regimes.

It’s understandable that many in Congress would prefer a “hawk” in the defense chair. What’s puzzling is why long-time Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham would block Hagel’s confirmation because they don’t like the answers they’re getting from Obama about when he contacted Libyan officials after the attack in Benghazi last year.

Yes, four lives were lost, and for the families of the dead, there’s no way to diminish the pain or the frustration over what was likely faulty intelligence or botched efforts in the aftermath. But it must also be said that these individuals understood the hazards of their job. Diplomats know they can be killed, and even if that hasn’t happened in 30 years, it’s a real possibility. They willingly put their lives on the line in service to their country.

The same cannot be said of the nearly 2,800 people killed in the attacks of 9/11. Those accountants, stockbrokers, educators, secretaries,  janitors and others did not consider themselves in a war zone, and yet, that’s what “Ground Zero” turned out to be. Although the Bush administration certainly did not invite or cause this unspeakable tragedy, there’s no doubt intelligence failures occurred.

The behavior of McCain and Graham suggests the Benghazi intelligence failures, under Obama, were somehow worse than those of 9/11, under Bush. For anyone able to step back and look at both situations with a dispassionate eye, the contrast is remarkable – and so is the hypocrisy.

What’s sauce for the goose should be sauce for the gander. A president – whether Democrat or Republican – has a right to pick his Cabinet without being obstructed every step of the way, unless the candidate is indeed unworthy.

Untold thousands of Americans understandably resent Obama’s re-election; many of those folks are right here in Tahlequah. But whether we like it or not, Obama is the democratically elected president. Even those of us who don’t respect the man should at least respect the office. That means according him the same privileges of his predecessors, and refraining from holding him to standards we’d never dream of imposing on those predecessors.

Hagel deserves an up-or-down vote, and it’s embarrassing that members of his own party are standing in his way. What are they afraid of?