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Sen. Chuck Hagel represents the very best of Georgetown
On Jan. 7 President Obama nominated former Republican Senator from Nebraska, Vietnam War veteran, and Georgetown professor Chuck Hagel to replace Leon Panetta as the next Secretary of Defense. Ever since details of the possible nomination leaked in December, the choice has proved controversial and been attacked by a diverse group of political organizations. Jewish senators and representatives have taken issue with comments that they say are “anti-Israel” and with Hagel’s characterization of the “pro-Israel lobby” as the “Jewish lobby.” The right has attacked him for not being “hawkish” enough, particularly on Iran, where he spoke against unilateral sanctions and even implied that the military option should be taken off the table. Gay rights activists dug up a comment he made in 1998 describing President Clinton’s nominee for the ambassador to Luxembourg as being “openly, aggressively gay.” Even environmentalists are queasy and call him the “Kyoto-Slayer” after he co-sponsored the “Byrd-Hagel” bill in 1997 that unanimously passed in the Senate and practically doomed the Kyoto protocol’s U.S. passage.
Each criticism is not without a plausible defense. Hagel admits he misspoke on Israel and has apologized profusely for his anti-gay comments. His views on the Middle East peace process and Iran are not outside of the mainstream. He has become a strong supporter of renewable energy and some believe he could radically improve the military’s “green” credentials.
In general, though, such arguments nitpick moments of indiscretion and miss the broader picture: as Secretary of Defense Hagel would not only be great for the U.S. military but also global security, in large part because he represents much of the values that Georgetown is built upon.
At Georgetown we are continuously challenged to weigh different opinions, think strategically, and to speak our mind. As Prof. Anthony Arend likes to say, at Georgetown we pride ourselves in thinking outside of the box to find new solutions to ever-present problems. Chuck Hagel exemplifies this approach and it was evident in his teaching as the Distinguished Professor in the Practice of National Governance in the SFS since leaving the Senate in 2009.
Professor Hagel taught “21st Century Geopolitical Realities,” a class that sought to explore the correct role for the U.S. and what constitutes strategy in today’s international system. According to Nigel Anthony (SFS ‘13), a former student of his, he was “a really engaging professor, always asking us to consider a multitude of viewpoints on the issues and encouraging us to argue minority positions.” Former Secretary of State and Senator Hagel’s colleague at Georgetown, Madeline Albright, expressed similar sentiments in a Politico interview:
“We actually teach together at Georgetown,” she said, “and I think he has really the most kind of well-thought-out views and is a very careful analyst and student of foreign affairs and understands it.” Hagel’s many policy positions, including some of the more controversial ones, illustrate this Georgetown approach of learning: they are diverse, strategic in their approach, and vigorously defended once thought out.
The overall paradigm through which Chuck Hagel views the world and the U.S.’s place in it also parallels the essential Georgetown worldview. He is a pragmatic internationalist who believes that the U.S. has an important role to play in this world, but that it does not play this role alone. He believes that America should not be the world’s policeman, but act in coordination with others to achieve important foreign policy goals. Above all, the approach should always be strategic in nature, considering all angles and the long term implications of decisions. Hagel’s controversial views on Israel, where he has often refused to sign legislation that he viewed as short-sighted and counterproductive both for the U.S. and Israel, and on Iran, where he refused to endorse sanctions that were not multilateral, exemplify this approach.
This nomination matters. The Department of Defense is standing at a pivotal moment in its history, facing the prospect of deep budget cuts, a military force not engaged in any active combat after the withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014, and a world undergoing transformative change, including the Arab Spring and brewing conflict in the South China Sea. The next Secretary of Defense has a unique opportunity to develop a long-term strategic framework that will influence U.S. foreign policy for decades to come.
Chuck Hagel’s assertive yet contemplative thinking combined with a worldview grounded in multilateralism and the careful but restrained use of force makes him the perfect person for the role. School of Foreign Service Dean, Carol Lancaster, noted that “Georgetown’s loss would be America’s gain,” if Senator Hagel were to be confirmed. Chuck Hagel has given much to Georgetown, and although he will be missed on campus, the right time has come for him to serve our country once again.