Worthy

With most Senate Democrats committing to his nomination, former two-term Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel seems well on his way to becoming America’s next defense secretary.

If he wins confirmation – and he should – the Nebraskan would be the only Republican in President Obama’s revamped second term Cabinet, joining former Senate colleague John Kerry who won confirmation last week as the new Secretary of State.

Given Hagel’s relationship with the Republicans on defense matters, especially during his last term as a Senator, it was no surprise his GOP former colleagues are now his strongest critics. He has never marched in lockstep with the extreme right on any matter. But criticism, such as that from Sen. Deb Fisher, R-Neb., that his views on defense matters are “extreme” and “far to the left” are completely irrational and borderline repulsive.

Hagel, 66, is one of the few men in today’s political world who actually served in the military. That is something the majority of his critics – with the exception of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. – can’t say.

Hagel was a highly decorated soldier in Vietnam, winning two Purple Hearts. If his views about combat – and the young men and women sent to fight – were shaped by his year in Vietnam, that is good for everyone except maybe the politicians who always demand sending American troops into harm’s way at any provocation. Hagel believes military action should always be the last resort and diplomatic efforts should be attempted to diffuse any volatile situation.

Hagel is not always right. McCain, probably his most vocal Republican critic and a former friend, parted ways over the 2007 troop surge in Afghanistan. Hagel opposed sending in more troops to quell the growing violence against U.S. forces, while McCain actively supported sending in more troops. Additional troops were sent, and it did stem the violence at the time. However, that should not disqualify him for the position.

American has to continue be strong because we live in a volatile world. We have to be willing to use our military might if necessary. Hagel will face troubling issues in the coming months, from Iran to Northern Africa. It is not inconceivable that sometime in his tenure he would have to recommend sending Americans in to dangerous situations.

But it is good for those troops who would be sent – and for the country – to have a defense secretary who has been there and understands the dangers those troops would be facing in those situations.