Damaged Goods: Hagel's Brand Suffers from Confirmation Battle

Chuck Hagel, stuck in an arduous confirmation battle to become Secretary of Defense, has notably pivoted away from his more controversial foreign policy positions—a move that appears to have validated Senate Republicans' fierce opposition to a reelected Barack Obama.

So says Haviv Rettig Gur, a columnist at the Times of Israel. In a piece titled "Hagel's Damaged Brand," he argues that the GOP has scored a political victory even if the former Republican senator from Nebraska is confirmed. 

Hagel, he writes, "has spent the past few months disavowing—with suspiciously convenient timing—the very positions that have come to define him politically." These positions include friendly overtures toward terrorist groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah and a credulous belief that "the ayatollahs of Iran would responsibly wield a nuclear weapon."

The Republicans' dogged vetting of Hagel, primarily through freshman Senator Ted Cruz (TX), has achieved a largely unprecedented result, writes Gur. Instead of coasting to confirmation, his GOP background giving Obama a talking point about his own bipartisanship, "Hagel will begin his tenure with a level of partisan suspicion and dislike unknown since the end of Donald Rumsfeld’s term in 2006."

Indeed, a Wednesday Pew opinion poll shows Hagel's unfavorable ratings have jumped eleven points in a month, eclipsing his favorable ratings. 

And, as one "veteran Democratic activist" told the Times, not all the enmity towards Hagel comes from conservatives. "Democrats will be relieved if he’s gone," the source said; "they don’t like him on Israel, on Iran and because he’s a Republican."

If confirmed, Hagel will need to tread lightly, especially regarding the United States' role in the conflict between Israel and Iran. The 2012 Democratic National Convention showed Obama's base faces an identity crisis over Israel, as the convention hall erupted into boos and jeers when leaders reinserted language recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish state in the party's platform.

Thus, Gur concludes, Hagel will face immense pressure from lawmakers of both parties "watching him closely for any perceived missteps in the years to come" if he is, in fact, confirmed. And Obama's uncompromising attempt to muscle Hagel into his Cabinet may lead to widespread public awareness and distrust of his foreign policy much earlier than he would have liked in his second term.


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