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Hagel Enters Pentagon Stronger After Confirmation Vote

02/26/2013 04:55 pm ET | Updated Apr 28, 2013
  • Jon Soltz Co-Founder of VoteVets.org, Iraq War Veteran

After a lot of fake controversy, Chuck Hagel has finally been confirmed as Secretary of Defense -- something I said would happen all along. But, out of this whole situation, three things are now true.

First, troops finally have one of their own at the top, in the Pentagon. Second, Chuck Hagel is ironically in a stronger position than he would have been if there had been no effort by the right to smear him. And, finally, the Republican Party is falling farther into disarray.

As to the first point, Chuck Hagel brings with him the experience of being a grunt on the ground in Vietnam, where he was awarded two Purple Hearts, serving alongside his brother, who was awarded three. In short, very few understand the sacrifices troops make in war as much as Chuck Hagel. That experience, as well as his years of experience advocating for troops and veterans in the Senate, will make him an exemplary Secretary of Defense.

It doesn't matter what decision he has to make, he will always think first about how something will affect our troops and their families, along with our own security. He'll carry their best interests with him, every time he's called to the White House Situation Room, and convey those considerations to the president. It's a powerful moment for all of those who have served, and are serving now.

More importantly, Chuck Hagel comes out of this vote stronger than ever. Right-wing smears, backed by millions of wasted dollars, caused hundreds of retired military officers, diplomats, former Secretaries of Defense, and National Security Advisors to publicly support his nomination, backed up by thousands and thousands of veterans. He received over 60 votes for cloture, which is becoming a miracle in today's Washington.

Now, for the senators who smeared him and delayed his vote, they will have to work many times harder to repair their relationship with him, as they try to advocate for the military needs of their own states. It isn't that Chuck Hagel would ever take any retaliatory action against those senators and the states they represent. I know the man, and that isn't in his DNA. But, if you've ever looked at a senator's website, or read his or her newsletter, you will constantly see them crowing about saving a base from closing, or opening up a new military facility. It's good for their approval ratings, and good for getting votes in any given area. It's important.

For a senator to effectively advocate for the various military installations or contractors in their state, it will take a harmonious working relationship with Chuck Hagel and his staff. People like John McCain and Lindsey Graham have a lot of work to do to improve their relationship. That puts Chuck Hagel in a pretty strong position, that he ironically wouldn't have held if senators had simply done their jobs instead of launching a Swift Boat attack.

Politically, the faux fight over Hagel's nomination has dramatically shown a Republican Party in complete disarray, in the midst of their own civil war. On one hand, there are some Republican senators who, today, put the nation above politics, and refused to engage in sliming a great American veteran. On the other hand, there is an increasingly shrill fringe right who, in conjunction with the same neoconservatives who led us into Iraq, continue to show that they will put anything -- even American security -- below their own self-aggrandizement and continued campaign to oppose anything the Obama administration says or does.

That fringe wing continues to threaten senators with primary challenges, which has specifically scared formerly moderate senators like Lindsey Graham into joining their ranks. It wasn't just obvious. It was completely transparent. In an NPR piece, South Carolina Republican State Senator Tom Davis didn't even try to hide it:

Davis says [Graham's actions against Hagel] masks votes Graham has taken that conflict with small-government ideals. Graham voted for the bank bailout, once worked on climate change legislation and voted for the recent fiscal cliff deal that allowed taxes to rise on the wealthiest Americans.

"All of those things have caused individuals to wonder whether or not [Graham] is representative of the type of conservative or the type of Republican that we need in Washington, D.C., right now," he says.

Davis was once talked about as a primary challenger against Graham. Now, he's decided against a challenge.

It's either play ball with the Tea Party fringe, or get booted. Want to be responsible, to a degree? Forget it, if it means even thinking about talking with Democrats. This is now an all-out battle to see if reasonable Republicans can survive, let alone have a millimeter of leeway. The fight between the two wings of the Republican Senate Caucus has now come to a head, and the Republican Party is much weaker for it.

Combined, all of these things mean that Chuck Hagel enters the Pentagon in a rare position. He's been one of the boots on the ground, and speaks with authority for them. He is going to enjoy a certain amount of private groveling from senators who now need him. And while the Republican Party fights among itself, he and President Obama will be free to undo the last vestiges of neocon influence in the halls of the Defense Department.

And that is about all any of us could ask for.

UPDATE: To the second point, that Republicans who smeared him are going to have to work hard to repair their relationship with Hagel, it started happening just moments after I posted this. Politico, under a story titled, "Hagel survives; opponents make nice," reports:

"They beat him up for months -- in TV ads, in op-ed pages and in Congress, with delay after delay before his confirmation on Tuesday.

"But now that Chuck Hagel is set to take the top job at the Pentagon on Wednesday, many of his Senate opponents seemed ready to mend fences just hours after trying to derail him. As Hagel's confirmation cleared the Senate floor 58 to 41, key Republican opponents who tried to wreck his nomination were already engaged in the Washington ritual of trying to make nice with their opponent after spending weeks opposing him."