By Former Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) - 02/12/13 12:38 AM EST
Hagel would be an excellent secretary for a number of reasons. His record speaks for itself: the former senator has the experience and determination to do the job, earning this trust as a soldier, in his actions as a private citizen and through a lifetime of public service.
But two more subtle reasons also weigh heavily in his favor. First and foremost, the president wants him, and that counts for a lot. The Constitution grants our president immense power to carry out the tremendous responsibilities of his office. He can delegate powers, but the responsibility remains his — the buck stops with the president. Because of this, the president must be allowed to choose the person in whom he has complete trust and confidence to fully exercise his authority.
In my opinion, no appointment requires a greater level of trust and judgment than that of the secretary of Defense. Our Armed Forces are serving at home and in harm’s way all over the world. Our military is planning for possible contingencies that could occur tomorrow, next year or in the next decade, but history tells us most crises will be rapid and unanticipated. The president cannot monitor everything in our dangerous world, but he can nominate someone to help him who shares his views and goals and has demonstrated the ability to competently execute strategic plans. President Obama’s first two defense secretaries — one Republican and one Democrat — were outstanding. Their steady hands and judgment laid a strong foundation on which to build our 21st-century defense. I am confident that Hagel would continue that legacy.
But I have a more personal reason for believing that Hagel is a good choice for the job. During my time in Congress and as chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, I warned about the growing distance between service members and citizens who have not served in uniform. The vast majority of Americans today enjoy lives of peace and normalcy here at home thanks to the security provided by the members of the Armed Forces, which is a significant change from our citizens’ posture in World War II, and even in the Vietnam era, when the war effort affected everyone in the country. Without a direct connection to military service, our citizens must constantly be reminded of the sacrifices our soldiers and their families make while they serve our country.
To bridge this civil-military gap, I recommended that our military men and women become active in their communities during and after service to bring an awareness of the sacrifices required to maintain our national security, as well as to inform their fellow citizens about the meaning and dangers of war. In this effort, Hagel has excelled as much as anyone I know.
After he returned home from Vietnam and left the Army, Hagel embraced public service and devoted a significant part of that service to veterans and the active-duty military. When he moved into the private sector and proved himself as a successful businessman, he volunteered again and again for public projects and efforts that supported our troops. He became a civic leader on both the local and national level and, finally, ran for the Senate. All along the way, he made it his cause to ensure that thought was given to the cost of war and to the plights of the service members we ask to bear the burden.
It is the secretary of Defense, among others, who must ensure that civilians understand the value to our society of the military and a strong national defense. It is the secretary who must set the tone to close the gap and bring together our service members and their families with all of the communities and activities of America. Through a lifetime of service, Chuck Hagel has demonstrated those sensibilities, and should be confirmed by the Senate as soon as possible.
Skelton is the former chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.