Chuck Hagel: Wrong For Defense

Former Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel is the wrong man at the wrong time to lead the Defense Department. With any luck, a coalition of common-sense Republicans and Democrats will come together to block this potentially disastrous appointment.

Mr. Hagel’s views on Israel and Iran—two rather important issues at the moment—are extremely troubling, although apparently President Obama finds them acceptable. What’s more, the former senator is positively retrograde in his opinion of gay people. It’s hard to know precisely what Mr. Obama sees in him. Unless, of course, the president shares Mr. Hagel’s skepticism of the threat Iran poses to Israel and the West. Or perhaps the president also regards Israel as a geopolitical burden rather than a trusted ally.

Given Mr. Hagel’s record, it’s not surprising that he has attracted critics from across the ideological and partisan spectrum. Former Massachusetts congressman Barney Frank, a Democrat, noted that Mr. Hagel voted against the interests of gay, bisexual and transgender people throughout his tenure in the Senate. Mr. Hagel also assailed the nomination of James Hormel to be U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg in 1998, complaining that the nominee was “openly and aggressively” gay—whatever that means.

Former Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman, an independent Democrat, noted that Mr. Hagel has consistently opposed economic sanctions against Iran and its virulently anti-Semitic, anti-American regime. And South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican, said that Mr. Hagel would be the most “antagonistic secretary of defense towards the state of Israel in our nation’s history.”

This is more than the usual partisan sparring in Washington, D.C. These are grave accusations, made by people who have deep and justified concerns about Mr. Hagel’s agenda and his priorities.

Unfortunately, it’s too late now to stop the president from moving ahead with the Hagel nomination. Critics were able to derail Susan Rice’s potential nomination as secretary of state, leading to the selection of John Kerry and avoiding a nasty public squabble. Mr. Hagel’s official nomination on Monday has raised the stakes and made a public confrontation inevitable—and necessary.

Democrats and Republicans on the Senate Armed Services Committee should hold Mr. Hagel to account for his record of antagonism toward Israel, his reluctance to crack down hard on Iran and his reactionary views on gays. Mr. Hagel’s confirmation hearing could then become an open and public glimpse into the opinions of the man Barack Obama wants to preside over the Pentagon.

It’s hard to imagine that the American people will go along with this appointment when they hear Mr. Hagel unfiltered by White House spokesmen. Such a hearing would not be pretty, but it would be the last chance to block a truly unfortunate appointment.

The presence of Mr. Hagel at the Defense Department would send all the wrong signals. Gay people would rightfully wonder why the Obama White House chose to promote a man who attacked Mr. Hormel. Iran would see no reason to end its anti-American diatribes. And Israel would have reason to doubt America’s commitment to its security.

It’s up to the Senate to press Mr. Hagel, and let the force of public opinion do the rest.