car·riage re·turn

n. the lever or mechanism on a typewriter that would cause the cylinder on which the paper was held (the carriage) to return to the left margin of the page


Filling the New Cabinet,Part IV:Defense

The Contenders

- Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE,1997-present):President,McCarthy and Company (1991-1996);President and CEO of United Service Organizations (1987-1990);Deputy Director/Chief Operating Officer,Economic Summit of Industrialized Nations (1990);Deputy Administrator of Veterans Affairs (1981-1982);Sergeant,2nd Battalion (Mechanized),47th Infantry Regiment,9th Infantry Division,IV Corps,Vietnam,United States Army (1967-1968)

- Dr. Robert Gates:Secretary of Defense (2006-present);President of Texas A&M University (2002-2006);Interim Dean of the George Bush School of Government and Public Service,Texas A&M University (1999-2001);Independent Lecturer (1993-1999);Director of Central Intelligence ["CIA Director"] (1991-1993);Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs ["Deputy National Security Advisor"] (1989-1991);Deputy Director of Central Intelligence (1986-1989);Deputy Director for Intelligence,CIA (1982-1986);Director of the DCI/DDCI Executive Staff,CIA (1981-1982);Director of the Strategic Evaluation Center,Office of Strategic Research,CIA (1979-1981);Staff,National Security Council (1974-1979);Intelligence Officer,CIA (1969-1974);Intelligence Officer,Strategic Air Command,United States Air Force (1967-1969);Staff,Central Intelligence Agency (1966)

Sen. Hagel

Sen. Obama,Gen. Petraeus,and Sen. Hagel in Iraq,21 July 2008

“As I’ve said here before,if Steve McQueen had ever been elected to the U.S. Senate,he would have been Chuck Hagel.”

- D. Allan Kerr, The Portsmouth Herald

I have yet to watch Steve McQueen’s 1978 production of Henrik Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People,but most assuredly,if Chuck Hagel is the Steve McQueen of the United States Senate,it is as much due to his role as the Republican Party’s Dr. Thomas Stockmann (minus the ego) as it is for his background as a highly decorated war hero.

Sen. Hagel,who in 2002 was branded “Sen. Skeptic (R.,France)”by the increasingly neoconservative National Review for his strong rebuke of Gen. Colin Powell and President Bush following the “Axis of Evil”speech,has been the subject of scorn among the PNAC set for his non-ideological,realist foreign policy views.


“Conservatives,I’ve always known,like this guy up there,” [Hagel] said,gesturing to a framed picture of President Dwight D. Eisenhower,“and Reagan,Goldwater,and others—[Sen. Robert] Taft,Mr. Conservative—were very protective in conserving our resources. And what is more significant in a country’s resource inventory than its people,its army? I think we have used our military recklessly and carelessly. I don’t think that’s conservative.” He continued,“I find it fascinating sometimes when I am challenged on this. I think I am the real conservative on the Iraq debate here.”

President Bush’s loyal congressional supporters,bolstered by the base,beg to differ. They find Hagel’s brand of realist internationalism,his hammering away at the Iraq policy as a misbegotten adventure akin to the Vietnam War he nearly died in,quite noisome. They’ve called him an appeaser,a traitor even. A personally popular senator with 35-year-old ties to the Republican Party,his detractors have done everything to marginalize him.

“As far as foreign policy is concerned,they [the conservative base] regard him as an apostate,” [Ross Baker] added. “These are people who believe that anybody who contradicts the president has to be cast out into the darkness.


- The American Conservative,09 April 2007

While he did vote for the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002,Sen. Hagel’s floor speech was filled with prescience:

Because the stakes are so high,America must be careful with her rhetoric and mindful of how others perceive her intentions. Actions in Iraq must come in the context of an American-led,multilateral approach to disarmament,not as the first case for a new American doctrine involving the preemptive use of force. America’s challenge in this new century will be to strengthen its relationships around the world while leading the world in our war on terrorism,for it is the success of the first challenge that will determine the success of the second. We should not mistake our foreign policy priorities for ideology in a rush to proclaim a new doctrine in world affairs. America must understand it cannot alone win a war against terrorism. It will require allies,friends,and partners.

American leadership in the world will be further defined by our actions in Iraq and the Middle East. What begins in Iraq will not end in Iraq. There will be other ‘‘Iraqs.’’ There will be continued acts of terrorism,proliferating powers,and regional conflicts. If we do it right and lead through the U.N.,in concert with our allies,we can set a new standard for American leadership and international cooperation. The perception of American power is power,and how our power is perceived can either magnify or diminish our influence in the world.

How many of us really know and understand much about Iraq,the country,the history,the people,the role in the Arab world? I approach the issue of post-Saddam Iraq and the future of democracy and stability in the Middle East with more caution,realism,and a bit more humility. While the people of the Arab world need no education from America about Saddam’s record of deceit,aggression,and brutality,and while many of them may respect and desire the freedoms the American model offers,imposing democracy through force in Iraq is a roll of the dice. A democratic effort cannot be maintained without building durable Iraqi political institutions and developing a regional and international commitment to Iraq’s reconstruction. No small task.

To succeed,our commitment must extend beyond the day after to the months and years after Saddam is gone. The American people must be told of this long-term commitment,risk,and costs of this undertaking.

We should not be seduced by the expectations of ‘‘dancing in the streets’’ after Saddam’s regime has fallen,the kites,the candy,and cheering crowds we expect to greet our troops,but instead,focus on the great challenges ahead,the commitment and resources that will be needed to ensure a democratic transition in Iraq and a more stable and peaceful Middle East. We should spend more time debating the cost and extent of this commitment,the risks we may face in military engagement with Iraq,the implications of the precedent of United States military action for regime change,and the likely character and challenges of a post-Saddam Iraq. We have heard precious little from the President,his team,as well as from this Congress,with a few notable exceptions,about these most difficult and critical questions.

While I cannot predict the future,I believe that what we decide in this Chamber this week will influence America’s security and role in the world for the coming decades. It will serve as the framework,both intentionally and unintentionally,for the future. It will set in motion a series of actions and events that we cannot now
understand or control.

In authorizing the use of force against Iraq,we are at the beginning of a road that has no clear end.

Since this speech,Sen. Hagel admitted he regrets supporting the authorization,building a reputation as one of the most reliable and principled critics of the Iraq War. More interesting still is Hagel’s role in recognizing the original intent behind the White House’s original draft of the Iraq War Resolution,revealed nearly five years later in a January 2007 interview with Wil S. Hylton of GQ magazine:

GQ:Do you wish you’d voted differently in October of 2002,when Congress had a chance to authorize or not authorize the invasion?

Hagel:Have you read that resolution?

GQ:I have.

Hagel:It’s not quite the way it’s been framed by a lot of people,as a resolution to go to war. That’s not quite what the resolution said.

GQ:It said,“to authorize the use of United States Armed Forces against Iraq.”

Hagel:In the event that all other options failed. So it’s not as simple as “I voted for the war.” That wasn’t the resolution.

GQ:But there was a decision whether to grant the president that authority or not.

Hagel:Exactly right. And if you recall,the White House had announced that they didn’t need that authority from Congress.

GQ:Which they seem to say about a lot of things.

Hagel:That’s right. Mr. [Alberto] Gonzales was the president’s counsel at that time,and he wrote a memo to the president saying,“You have all the powers that you need.” So I called Andy Card,who was then the chief of staff,and said,“Andy,I don’t think you have a shred of ground to stand on,but more to the point,why would a president seriously consider taking a nation to war without Congress being with him?” So a few of us—Joe Biden,Dick Lugar,and I—were invited into discussions with the White House.

GQ:It’s incredible that you had to ask for that.

Hagel:It is incredible. That’s what I said to Andy Card. Said it to Powell,said it to Rice. Might have even said it to the president. And finally,begrudgingly,they sent over a resolution for Congress to approve. Well,it was astounding. It said they could go anywhere in the region.

GQ:It wasn’t specific to Iraq?

Hagel:Oh no. It said the whole region! They could go into Greece or anywhere. I mean,is Central Asia in the region? I suppose! Sure as hell it was clear they meant the whole Middle East. It was anything they wanted. It was literally anything. No boundaries. No restrictions.

GQ:They expected Congress to let them start a war anywhere they wanted in the Middle East?

Hagel:Yes. Yes. Wide open. We had to rewrite it. Joe Biden,Dick Lugar,and I stripped the language that the White House had set up,and put our language in it.

GQ:But that should also have triggered alarm bells about what they really wanted to do.

Hagel:Well,it did. I’m not defending our votes;I’m just giving a little history of how this happened. You have to remember the context of when that resolution was passed. This was about a year after September 11. The country was still truly off balance. So the president comes out talking about “weapons of mass destruction” that this “madman dictator” Saddam Hussein has,and “our intelligence shows he’s got it,” and “he’s capable of weaponizing,” and so on.

GQ:And producing a National Intelligence Estimate that turned out to be doctored.

Hagel:Oh yeah. All this stuff was doctored. Absolutely. But that’s what we were presented with. And I’m not dismissing our responsibility to look into the thing,because there were senators who said,“I don’t believe them.” But I was told by the president—we all were—that he would exhaust every diplomatic effort.

GQ:You were told that personally?

Hagel:I remember specifically bringing it up with the president. I said,“This has to be like your father did it in 1991. We had every Middle East nation except one with us in 1991. The United Nations was with us.”

GQ:Did he give you that assurance,that he would do the same thing as his father?

Hagel:Yep. He said,“That’s what we’re going to do.” But the more I look back on this,the more I think that the administration knew there was some real hard question whether he really had any WMD. In January of 2003,if you recall,the inspectors at the IAEA,who knew more about what Saddam had than anybody,said,“Give us two more months before you go to war,because we don’t think there’s anything in there.” They were the only ones in Iraq. We hadn’t been in there. We didn’t know what the hell was in there. And the president wouldn’t do it! So to answer your question—Do I regret that vote? Yes,I do regret that vote.

GQ:And you feel like you were misled?

Hagel:I asked tough questions of Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld before the war:How are you going to govern? Who’s going to govern? Where is the money coming from? What are you going to do with their army? How will you secure their borders? And I was assured every time I asked,“Senator,don’t worry,we’ve got task forces on that,they’ve been working,they’re coordinated,” and so on.

GQ:Do you think they knew that was false?

Hagel:Oh,I eventually was sure they knew. Even before we actually invaded,I had a pretty clear sense of it—that this administration was hell-bent on going to war in Iraq.

GQ:Even if it meant deceiving Congress?

Hagel:That’s right.

The difference between Hagel and [Sen. John] Edwards,”wrote Kelley Vlahos of The American Conservative,“may be that Hagel’s change of heart never smacked of political convenience – in the manner of a maverick,he’s risked alienation from his party,his friends,his support back home. He doesn’t — yet — seem to be animated by obvious political ambition.” Writing in 2006,John Nichols of The Nation said of Sen. Hagel:

Hagel has long been blunter than his Democratic colleagues about the disaster that the Iraq occupation has become for the U.S. The Nebraska Republican was making comparisons between the Vietnam War,in which he served,and the Iraq imbroglio months ago —at a point when most Senate Democrats were holding their tongues. 

Democrats should be asking themselves:Why is a Republican taking the lead on the issue that played such a pivotal role in putting Democrats in charge of the House and Senate?

The honest answer is an unsettling one.

Right now,Hagel is sounding more realistic and responsible than most if not all of the Democrats who are positioning themselves for 2008 presidential runs. Indeed,with Wisconsin Democrat Russ Feingold,the first senator to call for an withdrawal timeline,out of the running,Democrats could use a candidate who speaks as directly as does Hagel about the need to get out of Iraq. While it is true that Illinois Senator Barack Obama,who may or may not be running,is a Democrat who has started to make some of the right noises,Obama has not begun to equal the directness of Hagel’s declaration that:“The time for more U.S. troops in Iraq has passed. We do not have more troops to send and,even if we did,they would not bring a resolution to Iraq. Militaries are built to fight and win wars,not bind together failing nations. We are once again learning a very hard lesson in foreign affairs:America cannot impose a democracy on any nation —regardless of our noble purpose.”

Not only a man capable of highly accurate foresight,Sen. Hagel isn’t one to mince words. I recommend to your viewing the following footage of Sen. Hagel speaking at a 24 January 2007 meeting of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations:



In November 2006,Sen. Hagel wrote that the United States had “misunderstood,misread,misplanned and mismanaged our honorable intentions in Iraq with an arrogant self-delusion reminiscent of Vietnam.”On 11 January 2007,the day after President Bush delivered his “New Way Forward”speech articulating the proto-Surge,Sen. Hagel blasted Secretary of State Condolezza Rice in a Foreign Relations Committee hearing,stating:

When you were engaging Chairman Biden on this issue on the specific question of,“Will our troops go into Iran or Syria in pursuit [of terrorists],based on what the President said last night?,”you cannot sit here today — not because you’re dishonest or you don’t understand — but no one in our government can sit here today and tell Americans that we won’t engage the Iranians and the Syrians cross-border.

Some of us remember 1970,Madam Secretary. And that was Cambodia. And when our government lied to the American people and said,We didn’t cross the border going into Cambodia,in fact we did. I happen to know something about that,as do some on this committee.

So,Madam Secretary,when you set in motion the kind of policy that the president is talking about here,it’s very,very dangerous. As a matter of fact,I have to say,Madam Secretary,that I think this speech given last night by this President represents the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam — if it’s carried out.

I will resist it.

Once again,Sen. Hagel demonstrated foresight. On 27 October 2008,the US launched a helicopter-borne raid into Syria.

Along the way,Sen. Hagel has demonstrated that he hasn’t forgotten his roots as an enlisted man. When grilling Gen. David Petraeus and Amb. Ryan Crocker in front of the Foreign Relations Committee on 11 September 2007,Sen. Hagel spoke up for comrades in arms two generations his junior [section below starts at 6:22 in]:

Let’s get above the underbrush and look at the strategic context,which,essentially,we have never done.

It’s not your fault,General. It’s not Ambassador Crocker’s fault. It’s this administration’s fault. We have never,ever looked at Iraq from the larger strategic context,of not Iraq only but Iran,Syria,and the Middle East.

Now,where is this going to go?

Because the question that is going to continue to be asked —and you all know it and you have to live with it —and when you ask questions,as we all do,about is it worth it,the continued investment of American blood and treasure,when Senator Dodd presents to do [sic] the evaluation of one lonely enlisted man —and by the way,I assume you read The New York Times piece ["The War as We Saw It"] two weeks ago —seven NCOs [Non-Commissioned Officers] in Iraq,today,finishing up 15 month commitments.

Are we going to dismiss those seven NCOs? Are they ignorant?

They laid out a pretty different scenario,General,Ambassador,from what you’re laying out today.

Senator Biden said to me once —I think it was on our first trip to Iraq. He turned around and I was gone. He said:“Where did Senator Hagel go? ”

He found me out talking to the guys in the jeep,the Corporals and the Sergeants who have to do the dying and the fighting.

I’ve always found that,if you want an honest evaluation,and not through charts,not through the White House evaluations,you ask a sergeant or a corporal what they think.

I’ll bet on them every time,as I know you will,General. I know you will.

His dedication to his fellow veterans is longstanding and not without a dedication to duty which has brought Sen. Hagel to sacrifice himself personally and professionally for his beliefs:

“I think the world of Chuck Hagel,” [Rick Weidman,Vietnam vet and the Vietnam Veterans of America's head of government affairs] said,recalling how Hagel quit his job as deputy administrator for the Veterans Administration in 1982. His boss,then-Veterans Administrator Robert Nimmo,had a history of antagonizing Vietnam vets,calling them “crybabies” and seeking to cut off research into the physical effects of Agent Orange exposure,wrote [Charlyne] Berens in Moving Forward.

Hagel quit and was unemployed at the age of 36;Nimmo soon resigned amid a threatening scandal over his use of the office for personal gain. To many,Hagel was a hero all over again.

“He resigned over principle,it was a wonderful scene,” Weidman said,noting that Hagel immediately became “our champion in the Senate” when he was elected in 1996.

Furthermore,this past year Sen. Hagel threw his support wholeheartedly behind a proposal of fellow Vietnam veteran Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA) to provide modern education benefits for American veterans,similar to the original post-WWII GI Bill. The Webb-Hagel GI Bill was passed into law as the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2008.

Finally,Sen. Hagel has proven himself a man of his word. Though it would have been exceedingly easy for him to win re-election this year given his popularity in his district (he won reelection in 2002 with 82.76% of the vote),Sen. Hagel stood by a promise he made in 1996 to limit himself to two terms in the Senate:

I support Term Limits. However,I will not need Term Limits. Twelve years in Congress is enough for anyone. We should return to the Founding Fathers’concept of the “citizen-legislator,”and Term-Limits [sic] would help preserve that ideal. When elected officials stay too long in the same job,they become institutionalized and co-opted by the system.

Sen. Hagel announced his retirement from the Senate on 09 September 2007,and published a book –America:Our Next Chapter –in early 2008 [Full disclosure:Admittedly,I'm a Chuck Hagel fan,and I have a first edition hardcover of his book.] Earlier this year he had been considered by many as a potential Unity ’08 presidential nominee,but he declined to run for office. It seems to me that the United States could use an “enemy of the people”like Senator Hagel in a very senior Cabinet role,be it Secretary of Defense or Secretary of State.

Dr. Gates

Perhaps the highest praise of Dr. Gates is to recognize simply that he is not Donald Rumsfeld. One can not,for instance,reconcile the following video with the personality of Rumsfeld,“the nation’s square-jawed,harsh-talking,heartless Secretary of Defense,an existentialist on the order of Albert Camus’Meursault”and most dangerous American technocrat since Robert McNamara.



Rumors that President-elect Obama will likely ask Dr. Gates to say on as Secretary of Defense speak volumes on Dr. Gates’credibility and track record since taking over at the Pentagon on 05 December 2006. As acknowledged by TIME,Secretary Gates “has won praise on Capitol Hill for arguing that U.S. foreign policy is too militarized,and for firing senior officers and officials he deemed to have failed the nation’s wounded vets and to have been derelict in ensuring the security of America’s nuclear weapons.”[links mine] From these actions it is clear that Secretary Gates has returned accountability,a key component of military culture,to the Pentagon after its conspicuous absence under Donald “I’m working my way over to figuring out how I won’t answer [your question]”Rumsfeld.

Dr. Gates also declined to renominate General Peter Pace for Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in June of 2007,expecting the confirmation process to be a “divisive ordeal.”Pace had “been criticized by some senior officers who saw him as too deferential to civilian leadership,in particular former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld,and too inattentive to the impact of prolonged war-fighting on the Army,Marines and their National Guard and Reserve elements.”Secretary Gates instead recommended Adm. Michael Mullen,Chief of Naval Operations,for the post.

“Gates is a great choice because of the respect he has gained from all quarters after the fiasco that went before,”says Anthony Zinni,a retired four-star Marine who once headed the U.S. Central Command. “He would also provide continuity at a critical time.”

General Zinni’s statements have been echoed by others as well:

Understand that on the Hill,after Rummy,Gates was like a blast of fresh air. People found him candid and responsive (as opposed to arrogant and dismissive). I think most Democratic senators actually like and respect him,and most staff seem comfortable with keeping him on for some defined period.

Maybe that’s a sad reflection of how low Rummy set the bar —that we celebrate mere competence and professionalism —but there you go.

Opines Josh Marshall of TPM:

Let me be clear,I do not have a negative impression of Bob Gates. He’s mainly had the unlucky task of picking up after the mess created by Don Rumsfeld,Dick Cheney and President Bush. My sense is that Gates is a pretty sane guy and highly capable foreign policy hand. And that’s managed to come through even through the heavily cloaking effect of having to operate within President Bush’s inane foreign policies. I don’t think I know enough about Gates or the particulars of his administration of the Pentagon —to the extent that can be distinguished from the necessity of operating under President Bush —to give any qualified appraisal of him. But certainly he is much more in the [Gen. Brent] Scowcroft,rough-realist school than anything from the [George W.] Bush mold.

In other words,Secretary Gates has in common with the foreign policy team of the George H. W. Bush administration than the administration of his son. Further more,it appears that Gen. Scowcroft,who served as National Security Advisor for both Gerald Ford and Bush 41,and who since has “been involved in a multi-year rearguard battle against the neocons in the Bush administration,especially in key efforts trying to block sundry wars with Iran,shut down John Bolton,etc”is attempting to bring the Gates and Obama teams together in a “de facto alliance.”

This mutual cooperation on foreign policy bodes well for the country. Truthdig‘s Joe Conason connects the dots:

Remember that during the months before President Bush asked him to replace Donald Rumsfeld at the Pentagon,Gates was serving on the Iraq Study Group headed by former Secretary of State James Baker and former Rep. Lee Hamilton. The study group’s best-selling report,released only weeks after Mr. Gates resigned to accept the Bush appointment,was strongly critical of the president’s failed policies in Iraq.

Contrary to policies favored by President Bush at the time,the report urged immediate diplomatic contacts with all of Iraq’s neighbors,including Iran and Syria,in an effort to achieve stability,as well as negotiations with the Sunni insurgents that would lead to amnesty. The aim of those efforts was to achieve an orderly withdrawal of American troops from Iraq sooner rather than later. The report expressed deep worry that the Iraq war had diverted military and diplomatic resources away from the conflict in Afghanistan.

The Iraq Study Group’s recommendations and concerns sound familiar because they reflect the views expressed repeatedly by Obama ever since he announced his presidential candidacy. When President Bush largely rejected the ISG findings,his new secretary of defense felt obliged to distance himself from them as well. But according to the panel’s other members,it was Gates who had in fact written much of the report,and he concurred fully with its views.

Upon assuming control of the Pentagon,Gates did his best to subordinate his own opinions to administration policy,working hard to make the best of the troop escalation in Iraq despite personal doubts about the long-term wisdom of the “surge.” But he never echoed the Bush administration’s official hostility to a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq—and in fact at one point praised the debate over timetables in Washington as a means of increasing pressure on the Iraqis to achieve reconciliation and security on their own.

That should sound familiar,too,because it is so close to Obama’s stated policy.

The consensus,then,is that Secretary Gates is a competent civilian administrator who happens to be live in a similar foreign policy neighborhood to the President-elect.

“He’s not ideological,he’s not partisan,and you could trust him to manage the wars in a competent manner while a new administration gets up to speed,”said Nancy Soderberg,a Democrat and onetime U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. “It would allow the Obama administration to hit the ground running.”

- The Wall Street Journal,11 November 2008

Should President-elect Obama decide to retain Dr. Gates as Secretary of Defense,it would be a most prudent choice.


I had originally included Richard Danzig,Secretary of the Navy from 1998-2001,and Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) in early drafts of my pool of potential appointees. However,with the recent consistency of rumor surrounding the retention of Secretary Gates,the nomination of either Mr. Danzig or Sen. Reed in his stead seems unlikely and only tied to any reluctance on the part of Dr. Gates to remain in his position. I have included Senator Hagel in this post because his name has been the other most widely circulated,and because I firmly believe that the Obama administration would do well to bring Senator Hagel into the Cabinet at a very high level,either at the State Department or the DoD. Should either Mr. Danzig or Sen. Reed vault back into the top tier of potential appointees,or should I see their names mentioned as a potential National Security Advisor,I will write a special post to cover this omission.

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