There are no greater witnesses to the excellence of President Obama's
choice to be secretary of Defense, former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.),
whom I applauded in a recent column,
than the strong support Hagel is receiving from a long list of national
security leaders who served under President Reagan. Reagan always
believed, as Hagel does, that while military force is sometimes needed,
the best course for the U.S. is to seek diplomatic solutions that avoid
large-scale combat missions when possible. It is Chuck Hagel who is most
in line with the Reagan worldview and the Republican and bipartisan
traditions of American security policy, not his critics on the right.
This is why so many national-security leaders who served under President Reagan support Hagel, including: Colin Powell, whom Reagan chose to be his national security adviser; Frank Carlucci, whom Reagan chose to be his national security adviser and secretary of Defense; Richard Burt, who served under Reagan as director of politico-military affairs and assistant secretary of State; Lawrence Korb, who served Reagan as assistant secretary of Defense; and Thomas Pickering, who served Reagan as U.S. ambassador to Israel.
I will elaborate on this theme in an upcoming column: President Reagan understood the importance of leveraging a strong national defense for effective diplomacy. Reagan did not seek major deployments of large-scale U.S. troops in combat situations. In fact, he avoided these actions whenever possible.
During the presidency of Bush 43 I was on an intelligence panel, with most of the other panelists being neoconservatives or conservatives. I began by telling my colleagues: "I will yield my opening statement time so each of you can detail the large-scale commitments of troops to combat in land wars and ground wars during the eight-year presidency of Ronald Reagan.”
At first there was silence from my colleagues. Then nervous shuffling in the room. Finally one of them said, "Granada.” At that point even conservatives in the audience had to laugh. The indisputable fact is that Reagan avoided these large-scale, multiyear combat missions, a view he had in common with Chuck Hagel, a decorated war hero who is willing to fight when necessary but wise enough to avoid war when possible.
I would add that there was no stronger supporter of Israel than Reagan, but when Reagan saw the Israeli bombing of Lebanon that he felt unwise, he called the Israeli prime minister, as a conservative American leader addressing a conservative Israeli leader, and strongly urged him to stop that bombing, which Israel then stopped.
Hagel stands in the tradition of bipartisan national security policy that has transcended Republican and Democratic presidents. Hagel is an excellent and outstanding choice and I applaud President Obama for nominating him and the equally excellent choice of Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) for secretary of State.
Hagel should and will face questions at his confirmation hearing, and he should and will answer them.
I would equally propose that senators voting on confirmation ask themselves an equally important question: Why are so many senior security officials who served President Reagan so strongly supporting Hagel for secretary of Defense?