WASHINGTON -- The folks who gave you the long agony of Iraq now are leading the charge to derail the man who warned that it was a mistake, an opinion with which millions of Americans would now agree.
Former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel's nomination as secretary of defense to replace Leon Panetta is being opposed by the neoconservatives of the Bush administration, who apparently regard him as too timid when it comes to sending men and women into combat. That has more than a tinge of irony, seeing that they never have been there and he has.
What really upsets them is that as a Republican and twice-wounded veteran of Vietnam, Hagel felt some responsibility for outspokenness when it comes to this nation's Israeli obligations and their influence on the decision to remove Saddam Hussein. Their resentment clearly lingers despite the fact that Hagel ultimately voted for the Iraq resolution and has said he fully supports Israel.
Particularly galling for neocons may be that Hagel's nomination once again points to the fact that he was right to be cautious -- that their entire justification for the Iraq invasion was wrong. It was based on the faulty premise that Saddam was in possession of weapons of mass destruction, including emerging nuclear capability, and therefore was a major threat to our national security. Underpinning this theory was bad intelligence, bad political philosophy and just plain wrongheadedness about Saddam's connections to al-Qaida. They didn't exist.
Saddam was mainly a threat to his own people. He kept his Middle East enemies, mainly Iran, at bay with the WMD myth and by acting tough. As for al-Qaida, there was ample evidence to the contrary that he would tolerate the terrorist group he knew he couldn't control.
The "fight was right" crowd seems once again to ignore the debilitating impact that the drawn-out Iraq invasion had on this nation's economy, morale and, most of all, its military. Thousands were killed; thousands of others were maimed or suffered psychological damage from having to endure multiple tours under severe stress. Fighting a war on a credit card has helped lead the country into its continuing fiscal dilemma.
War, as W.T. Sherman correctly described it, is hell. It should be a last resort for settling differences. Until recently, that was the attitude of a nation whose entire military strength was built as a means to deter it.
If that approach still is valid, why then should we not have a defense secretary who likes to ask questions first before making recommendations to the commander-in-chief? This nation always has been willing to intervene when clearly necessary, but to do so precipitously is more and more difficult, given both nuclear proliferation and our own military limitations including budgetary strain.
There is nothing revealed in Hagel's record so far to sustain the attacks on him. He has been a warrior, a public servant and a good businessman. Has he at times been outspoken, a Republican who obviously thinks for himself, and isn't afraid to diverge from party lines? Certainly he has. But that makes him all the more attractive.
The constitutional power given the Senate for advice and consent always should be exercised gingerly, especially when it comes to the president's Cabinet, under the theory that the president has the right to have the people he wants for these important posts. Only nominees with dubious histories or who are clearly unfit morally and psychologically should be rejected. Differences in philosophy based on different experiences, like service in a war zone, don't pose valid obstacles to confirmation.