Chuck Hagel’s nomination as Secretary of Defense has provoked opposition due to his perceived hostility towards Israel, his posture of appeasement towards Iran, and his objection to the successful Iraq surge. He supports global nuclear disarmament, having signed onto the “Global Zero” campaign. He has also been criticized for past comments on gays, remarks about a “Jewish lobby,” and a no-exceptions policy on abortion.
Yet the most difficult position for Hagel to overcome might be climate change. In 1997, then-Sen. Hagel (R-NE) co-sponsored a resolution with Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV)against the Kyoto Protocol on climate change. The resolution rejected any climate treaty, such as Kyoto, that did not include developing countries and that “would result in serious harm to the economy of the United States.” It passed unanimously (95-0).
The Byrd-Hagel resolution essentially ended American involvement in international efforts to compel nations, primarily industrialized nations, to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Left-wing Democrats seethed, and saw the Obama presidency as an opportunity to reverse more than a decade of opposition (hence the infamous, and serious, Obama campaign promise to slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet).
In the interim, the U.S. became the world leader in reducing carbon emissions, growing our economy (albeit slowly) while reducing our carbon dioxide emissions (rapidly). The reason was the emergence of the shale gas industry, in spite of stiff opposition from both the Obama administration and the left in general which abhors the use of dreaded “fracking.” Yet the Obama administration continued to push for government “solutions.”
The Department of Defense has been central to the president’s radical climate change agenda. Democrats began “prodding” the department to “include climate change in its strategic plans” in 2008. The Pentagon, under such influence, now warns that climate change is a likely threat to national security–though scientists cannot yet predict particular climate effects of anticipated global warming with any degree of certainty.
Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld kicked off the effort to cut the military’s reliance on fossil fuels. The Obama administration has pushed that agenda further by using the U.S. Navy to promote the use of biofuels. It has created a so-called “Great Green Fleet” that uses alternative fuels, “squeezed from seeds, algae and chicken fat,” that cost $26 per gallon–almost ten times as much as ordinary fuel. The goal is not just to reduce the Navy’s fossil fuel dependence, but to help the domestic biofuels industry.
Enormous personnel and financial resources are now being diverted at the Pentagon to deal with what is, at best, an uncertain danger, while drastic cuts are being made that have a real and immediate impact on military strength. We can no longer fight on two fronts, which was the Department of Defense’s core strategy for decades. We cannot save the refugees of Syria, for example. But we can “save the planet,” in the abstract.
Hagel’s past support for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” also conflicts with current Department of Defense policy–but unlike climate change, the admission of openly gay and lesbian members to the armed forces was approved by Congress. No climate change legislation has yet made it out of Congress–even one totally controlled by Democrats–and the Department of Defense’s new policies have been driven by the executive branch.
For Hagel to preside over a Department of Defense wholly committed to climate change policies that he steadfastly opposed in the Senate would not be his first flip-flop, but it would certainly be his most dramatic. His former colleagues would do well to question whether his beliefs have changed; if so, why; and if not, how he will do the job he wants.