Hagel and the National Security “Consensus”

Before discussion of the Hagel nomination as Defense Secretary becomes totally a matter of partisan Kabuki, and/or revolves around ancient offensive quotes from the Nebraskan about “the Jewish Lobby” or LGBT folk, I hope we can gain some insights about the man’s actual thinking on the basics of national security policy. Here’s an expression of similar hope from Jamelle Bouie writing at WaPo’s Plum Line:

[T]he Hagel pick is in one sense controversial. If the Washington consensus on foreign policy leans heavily toward intervention and expansion of the national security state, then Hagel is one of a small handful of lawmakers in recent memory who have questioned the assumptions underlying both. He was a vocal critic of the Iraq War and the Bush administration’s adoption of “enhanced interrogation techniques,” and has shown real independence on how the United States should approach its relationship to Israel.

Hagel represents a nod towards bipartisanship, in the sense that he’s a Republican. At the same time, however, the choice challenges the bipartisan establishment consensus on how America should conduct itself in the world. This is ultimately what makes Obama’s choice so interesting, and confounding to those who would reflexively oppose it for partisan reasons.

It would be nice if Hagel’s confirmation hearings get into these more basic questions, particularly at a time when we should be wondering if the Pentagon would get along just fine with a post-sequester appropriation. But I’m not holding my breath.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.