Yet another of former Senator Chuck Hagel’s (R–NE) speeches has now come back to bite him, and it could be the straw that topples his nomination for Secretary of Defense.
This time, it is a speech given on November 8, 2007, at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), on whose “Commission on Smart Power” Hagel served that year. In it, Hagel actually argued in favor of downgrading the importance ofU.S. military power and cast outrageous aspersions on the Bush Administration at a time when the country was at war inIraq.
The CSIS’s “Smart Power Report” soon became a mantra of the Obama Administration after taking office in 2009, a blueprint for State Department and USAID reform. “Smart power,” however, is not particularly about being smart but about the evisceration of theU.S.military, which in fact Hagel would be presiding over if confirmed.
The most controversial quote of Hagel’s speech comes toward the end, in which Hagel makes yet another case for engagement withIran, though he offers no specifics. All he says is that it has to be “smart”—as opposed to being characterized by “the lowest common denominator” and “cowboy talk”:
None of us in public office today—the Administration, Congress, our Presidential candidates—are fulfilling the requirements of leadership at a crossroads time in history…nor are we absorbing the enormity of the time in which we are living. Neither Republican nor Democratic candidates are speaking to the great challenges of our time…in particularIran…with depth, strategic thinking and wise words. We are captive to the lowest common denominator of “who can talk the toughest” and who is the “meanest cowboy on the block.” That kind of rhetoric…political as it may be…will only drive the world further away fromAmericaand deepen a world crisis…that we may not be able to recover from. At times, the debate is astoundingly uninformed.
Then comes the zinger, which will surely come back to haunt Hagel, an indictment of theUnited Statesas a global “schoolyard bully”:
Rather than acting like a nation riddled with the insecurities of a schoolyard bully, we ought to carry ourselves with the confidence that should come from the dignity of our heritage…from the experience of our history…and from the strength of our humanity…not from the power of our military.
Really? Our fine heritage, history, and humanity are not likely to make an impression onIran—or al-Qaeda, for that matter.