Following a new report that Hagel is likely to be nominated for Secretary of Defense, Joshua Keating reviews Hagel’s record on Iran and concludes that his appointment would represent a continuation of existing policy:
Hagel called for direct talks with Iran during the closing years of the Bush administration — as did Obama. He now says Iran’s nukes pose a serious threat but that the GOP isn’t fully considering the consequences of military action — as do Obama and Panetta [bold mine-DL]. If there’s a “signal” being sent, it’s that the administration is sticking with the plan on Iran.
Assuming that Hagel is nominated and confirmed, that would put another Republican internationalist in charge of the Pentagon. That has its advantages and its disadvantages. The advantages are that Hagel has been less enthusiastic about using force overseas than many other Republicans that he served with in Congress, and as a veteran he has never been one to minimize or ignore the costs of armed conflict. The disadvantages are that he did not oppose new foreign wars while he was in the Senate.
Towards the end of his last term in office, he seemed to have learned more from the Iraq debacle than most of his Republican colleagues, and I suspect he would now be a voice for restraint and skepticism when responding to conflicts like the one in Syria. On the other hand, Hagel was one of the leading Republicans in favor of the war in Kosovo, and went along with all of his Republican Senate colleagues (save Chafee) in voting for the authorization for the Iraq war. One of the reasons I have never been a Hagel fan is that his skepticism about military action never seems to prevail over his willingness to “do something.” He has been more aware than most politicians of the possible consequences of military action, but he has ended up supporting new wars each time the question has come up. Hagel is probably one of the best available choices that Obama could make, but it doesn’t guarantee anything and its significance shouldn’t be overstated.