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Cornyn To Oppose Hagel Nomination, If It Ever Comes

Chuck Hagel Atlantic Council Chairman Photo

John Cornyn tells Jennifer Rubin that he’ll oppose the confirmation of his former colleague, Chuck Hagel, for Secretary of Defense.

He methodically ticked through a list of concerns he had, pointing to positions Hagel has consistently taken over the years. “There are some points about his record that make him unacceptable.”

He explained, “America is the indispensable power for peace in the world.” He then explained why Hagel would undermine that premise.

“He appears to believe [a nuclear-armed] Iran can be contained. [ Defense Secretary  Leon] Panetta and the president have said a nuclear weapon is a red line. He’s not even consistent with the secretary of defense and the administration.”

He pointed to another statement Hagel made in 2010. “He said he wouldn’t support all options being on the table.” This is also inconsistent with the president’s position. Cornyn asked rhetorically, “How does it help to tell Iran that?”

That ”America is the indispensable power for peace in the world” happens to be a core premise of the Atlantic Council, of which Hagel is chairman of the board and at which I’m employed.

That a nuclear-armed Iran can be contained is, of course, unknowable since Iran is not currently armed with nukes. But a list of countries armed with nuclear weapons that have not used them is identical to the list of countries who have ever possessed nuclear weapons with a single exception: the United States. And, technically, the bombs we dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were atomic and no other country possessed comparable technology. Among those who have had nuclear weapons at their disposal and been contained: Josef Stalin, Mao Zedong, and Kim Jong Il.

Cornyn referred to Hagel’s support for a group that favors elimination of all nuclear weapons: “On the issue of nuclear weapons he’s embraced Global Zero. It strikes me as particularly naive … To have a secretary of Defense who believes all nuclear weapons should be eliminated is  . . . well, just over the top.”

Now, I happen to think the abolition of nuclear weapons is a pipe dream. Not only can technology not be uninvented but the fact of the matter is that being a nuclear possessor has tremendous prestige and security value, especially for small, vulnerable states like Iran. Nor, practically, will Global Zero amount to anything during the next four years, if ever, since the conditions under which the United States would reduce its inventories won’t be met.

Regardless, it’s hardly a crackpot movement. Among its signatories are dozens of former and current heads of state and heads of government. Oh, and former secretary of defense Frank Carlucci and former assistant secretary of defense Larry Korb, both of whom served under Ronald Reagan. And Robert “Bud” McFarlane, a national security advisor to Reagan. But that shouldn’t really be surprising; after all, Reagan supported abolishing nuclear weapons long before Global Zero was born.

Cornyn also cited Hagel’s vote against designating the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization in 2007. And he said, “He favors direct negotiations with Hamas. That is beyond the pale.”

Alas, Hamas, in addition to being a terrorist organization, also happens to be the leading political party in the Palestinian territory and the therefore governs the Palestinian Authority. If there are going to be negotiations, it’s going to be rather difficult not to include Hamas.

Cornyn also objected to Hagel’s remark in 2009 that “I’m not sure we know what the hell we are doing in Afghanistan.” (Although Cornyn did not cite it specifically, Hagel also remarked in 2011 that the U.S. ”lost our purpose, our objective” in Afghanistan.) Cornyn criticized the failure in Iraq to obtain a status of forces agreement that puts our gains at risk, arguing that Hagel would do the same in Afghanistan. He argued that ”it appears to me his position in Afghanistan after all we’ve invested, all the blood we’ve spilled” would leave the country in disarray and right back where it was before the Sept. 11 attacks.

I’ve spilled a lot of pixels on Afghanistan over the years and, if anything, Hagel is being diplomatic in his assessment of the operation. Whether our lofty goals were achievable in 2001 is, I suppose, debatable; that our wheels were spinning by 2009 is not. That fact that Cornyn thinks that leaving after a mere dozen years would mean undoing all the good that’s been achieved would seem rather powerful evidence that Hagel is right.

In addition, Cornyn took strong issue with Hagel on defense sequestration. “He basically believes the Defense Department can sustain the sort of Draconian cuts contained in sequestration — something Leon Panetta has said would be debilitating.”

That the Pentagon leadership is warning of dire consequences if their budget is cut is neither surprising nor interesting; that’s what bureaucracies do. Sequestration, combined with already programmed cuts, would amount to a trillion dollar cut in US defense spending over the next ten years. That’s a lot of money! But the projected $55 billion in cuts for FY 2013 still amounts to only 7.5 percent of the requested $728 billion Defense budget. And it’s only two-thirds the amount we’re projected to spend in FY 2013 on the fight in Afghanistan. Presumably, that amount will go down substantially come the end of 2014, meaning that the Pentagon budget will essentially be unchanged from current levels. Levels which, incidentally, are more than the entire rest of the planet combined spend on defense.

It’s debatable whether the time is ripe for austerity. But if we’re going to have massive budget cuts—and Cornyn is a leading proponent of that–the Defense department is going to take a heavy hit. That’s where the money is, after all.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Davebo says:

    Minor quibble

    Levels which, incidentally, are more than the entire rest of the planet combined spend on defense.

    No, but it is more then the next twenty largest spending countries.

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  2. mattb says:

    My initial reactions is that Cornyn’s opposition makes me like the idea of Hagel at Defense even more. Hagel seems to have all the right people opposing him.

    Unfortunately Rubin’s final paragraph brings it all home:

    Cornyn is not only a prominent senator and a member of the Armed Service Committee that would have to confirm the next secretary of defense, but he is also the GOP whip. Thus it is unlikely that a Hagel nomination could obtain 60 votes for cloture and confirmation.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  3. anjin-San says:

    Hagle is intelligent, hard working, a decorated combat veteran and a natural leader. Is it any surprise today’s conservatives despise him?

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 16 Thumb down 0

  4. Scott F. says:

    @mattb: I’m with you. Hagel has all the right enemies.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  5. stonetools says:

    @mattb:

    Still think he’ll win.
    Are the Republicans really going to vote against one of their own for SecDef, knowing that the next pick will certainly be a Democrat? That would be all kinds of stupid.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  6. Billy says:

    James,

    Why are you still a republican again?

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 15 Thumb down 0

  7. mattb says:

    @stonetools:
    But the issue is not so much voting against as not voting for. The Republicans are still smarting from this election and are looking for any black eye they can give the President. They scored blood on Susan Rice, but I don’t think that will be enough.

    Given the fact that neocons hate Hagel and Cornyn is already publicly opposing him, its difficult to see this happening. Especially if the Republicans are looking for cheap short term wins (which has been their strategy for quite a while) without much concern for the repercussions (see Elizabeth Warren as one example).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  8. Stonetools says:

    @mattb:

    Oh well, no problem for me. I’m not wed to Hagel. Good Democcratic candidates are out there.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  9. Tsar Nicholas says:

    Ultimately this is a moot point, since Hagel easily will be confirmed, but Cornyn needs to be wary of the law of unintended and unwanted consequences. There are a lot worse alternatives for DOD than Hagel.

    Besides, reality has a way of mugging the loopy into reality. Look at Obama. Back in ’07 and ’08, when he was running for Prez, Obama at times sounded like a parody of an acid flashback to George McGovern and Gene McCarthy. Within months after assuming the presidency, however, Obama morphed in various contexts into George W. Bush on steroids. The same thing probably will happen to Hagel. Especially when you consider that Hagel’s lifetime ACU rating is around 85, so obviously he’s starting out a lot closer to sentient.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 13

  10. James Joyner says:

    @Billy: Recall that so is Hagel. And Jon Huntsman. And several others who, alas, are out of step with much of the current leadership. There’s a pretty good opportunity right now for the sane voices to take the party back. If we don’t, I expect we’ll leave.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 7

  11. Brummagem Joe says:

    Whether our lofty goals were achievable in 2001 is, I suppose, debatable;

    I’ll bet you were all for it 2001 JJ…..in fact I’d stake my life on it just as I’d stake my life on you thinking invading Iraq was a wonderful idea.Two huge military and diplomatic fiascoes.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  12. elizajane says:

    @stonetools:

    But the Republicans specialize in All Kinds of Stupid. It’s practically their trademark.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  13. An Interested Party says:

    Besides, reality has a way of mugging the loopy into reality. Look at Obama. Back in ’07 and ’08, when he was running for Prez, Obama at times sounded like a parody of an acid flashback to George McGovern and Gene McCarthy.

    Yet more disingenuous horse$hit from the usual delusional source…and he dares to call anyone else loopy…now that’s ironic…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  14. al-Ameda says:

    If Hagel comes up for a nomination, Cornyn will get a free pass to vote “no.”

    I think Hagel would be confirmed with an easy 75-25 vote.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  15. James Joyner says:

    @Brummagem Joe: I supported ousting the Taliban and going after al Qaeda. On Iraq, I went from opposition to reluctant support on the WMD issue, but presumed the mission was regime change. I was always skeptical of the democratization and nation building missions. Indeed, George W. Bush campaigned against nation building in 2000.

    At any rate, my point is that, whether those goals were achievable in Afghanistan had we committed the resources to it at the outset of our effort, it was obviously a lost cause by 2009. And I wrote a passel of posts and articles saying so at the time.

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  16. OzarkHillbilly says:

    He explained, “America is the indispensable power for peace in the world.”

    Why do I get the feeling he and I have different definitions of the word “peace”?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  17. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Tsar Nicholas:

    Within months after assuming the presidency, however, Obama morphed in various contexts into George W. Bush on steroids.

    Yeah! I mean, how many Muslim countries did he invade in his first 6 mos?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  18. Brummagem Joe says:

    @James Joyner:

    In short I would have kept my life. And it took you until 2009 to realise Afghanistan was a disaster? With all due respect it was obvious both these adventures as conceived were going to end in disaster before they started. A case could have been made for a quick expedition into and out of Afghanistan to remove the Taliban but that was NEVER the strategy. Nation building was implicit in it from the start whatever George Bush may have said before he got elected.

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  19. James Joyner says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: Quite a few, if you count special ops raids and drone strikes.

    @Brummagem Joe: A major punitive raid was called for post-9/11. But trying to turn Afghanistan into a modern state, complete with women’s rights and all the rest, was a fool’s errand. But I’d note that Bush soft peddled that and Obama doubled down on it. More American troops have died there since Obama took office than under Bush.

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  20. Dazedandconfused says:

    I think Obama will nominate him anyway. He’s not worried about winning any more elections and probably would like to show them as much spine as he can muster up right now.

    I’d bet this is up to Chuck. He needs to be willing to fight through an unpleasant (at best) WaPo-led Jihad. Sure hope he does. I trust him, and it’s bad to cave to such weak arguments as those Cornyn is spewing. It’s just plain bad.

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  21. anjin-san says:

    But I’d note that Bush soft peddled that and Obama doubled down on it.

    I don’t see how Bush “soft peddled” nation building in Afghanistan, it was his policy. I remember him pushing it pretty hard. I also think Obama’s escalation of the war was more about avoiding the defeat we were flirting with as Bush was leaving office than nation building.

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