As confirmation hearings begin this morning for Chuck Hagel’s nomination to be Defense Secretary, he has no shortage of detractors. They have not, however, focused their criticisms especially well, leading to a hodgepodge of attacks. We’ve been told, at various times, that the Republican is anti-Israel, anti-gay, too supportive of budget cuts, and too dovish on Iran.
But as Adam Weinstein noted, the most recent talking point focuses on nuclear weapons. Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) complained in an op-ed, for example, that Hagel has been “an outspoken supporter of nuclear disarmament” and “seeks a world free of nuclear weapons.” The Weekly Standard complained that Hagel “co-authored a controversial report for Global Zero that urges deep cuts to America’s nuclear forces – by unilateral means, if necessary – on the path to global nuclear disarmament.”
It’s true that Hagel has long supported major reductions to the U.S. nuclear arsenal. It’s also true that this is a reason to support, not oppose, his nomination, and the former senator’s position, unlike his critics’, is entirely in the American foreign policy mainstream. Joe Cirincione, president of Ploughshares Fund, wrote a good piece on this.
The former Nebraska senator’s views … are hardly radical – in fact, they are downright boring. They represent the consensus of such a long list of security experts from both political parties that it is hard to list them and still keep this article interesting. […]
Hagel’s views are not unique among security experts; they are now the norm. They reflect the growing bipartisan consensus in the U.S. security establishment that whatever benefits nuclear weapons may have had during the Cold War are now outweighed by the threat they present.
The question isn’t why Hagel supports “a world free of nuclear weapons,” but rather, why his critics don’t. John F. Kennedy spoke often of eventually ridding the world of nuclear weapons. So did Harry Truman, who actually used them. Ronald Reagan supported the abolishment of “all nuclear weapons,” which he considered to be “totally irrational, totally inhumane, good for nothing but killing, possibly destructive of life on earth and civilization.”
“[F]or the eight years I was president,” Reagan wrote in his memoirs, “I never let my dream of a nuclear-free world fade from my mind.”
Hagel’s position, like that of President Obama, is entirely in line with the bipartisan approach outlined six years ago by George Shultz, secretary of state in the Reagan administration; Henry Kissinger, secretary of state in the Nixon and Ford administrations; William Perry, secretary of defense in the Clinton administration; and Sam Nunn, a former chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Colin Powell, James Baker, and Melvin Laird are on the same page.
To be sure, I’m not saying Hagel and Obama are right because prominent figures on national security policy agree with them. I am saying that the position embraced by Hagel and Obama is mainstream, not radical.
As Cirincione concluded, “The truth is that these are all common sense and commonplace positions, part of any national-security policy for the 21st century. It is the nuclear hawks that are outside the mainstream; Chuck Hagel is solidly within it.”
The right generally prefers to mock this. I still recall when Obama first outlined his hopes of eliminating nuclear arsenals and Rudy Giuliani whined, “A nuclear-free world has been a 60-year dream of the Left, just like socialized health-care. This new policy, like Obama’s government-run health program, is a big step in that direction. President Obama thinks we can all hold hands, sing songs, and have peace symbols.”
Hagel’s critics are spouting similar talking points now. The more the political world recognizes this as nonsense, the better.