15 Republicans Sign Letter Questioning Hagel's Basic Competency While Another Says He Will Provide Last Vote Needed For Confirmation

Fifteen Republicans signed a letter today asking President Obama to withdraw Chuck Hagel's nomination for Secretary of Defense, but the more meaningful move may have come from one Republican who said he would support Hagel.

Chuck Hagel
On the day that Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) announced his support for Chuck Hagel, presumably supplying the last vote he'll need for confirmation, fifteen Republican Senators signed a letter to President Obama asking him to withdraw Chuck Hagel's nomination for Secretary of Defense for two main reasons: he is not ready enough to go to war with Iran, and because Republicans filibustered his first confirmation vote.

Let's deal with that second one first. Here's a clip from the letter asking Obama to withdraw Hagel's nomination:

It would be unprecedented for a Secretary of Defense to take office without the broad base of bipartisan support and confidence needed to serve effectively in this critical position. Over the last half-century, no secretary of defense has been confirmed and taken office with more than three senators voting against him....The occupant of this critical office should be someone whose candidacy is neither controversial or divisive.

This argument rests on the credibility of Republican opposition to Obama's nominees. What that paragraph says is: Republican lack of support for Hagel is reason enough to withdraw his nomination, even though it's not enough to actually block him from being confirmed. The problem with this is that Republicans have blocked or slowed Obama's nominees at almost every opportunity. Many judgeships and agency posts are left unfilled because Republicans refused to confirm anyone to that post. Sometimes Senate Republicans would use parliamentary moves to delay a vote on a nominee by several days, purely for the sake of slowing down business in the Senate. Republican opposition to Obama nominees has been more about tactics than policy, so their votes against Hagel are not themselves a reason for Obama to withdraw him.

Now on to Hagel's lack of zeal for going to war with Iran:

Any sound strategy on Iran must be underpinned by the highly credible threat of U.S. military force, and there is broad bipartisan agreement on that point. If Senator Hagel becomes Secretary of Defense, the military option will have near zero credibility. This sends a dangerous message to the regime in Tehran, as it seeks to obtain the means necessary to harm both the United States and Israel.

The fifteen Republican Senators make an interesting claim here: that the Bush doctrine is now the accepted philosophy for the U.S. Their problem with Hagel being Defense Secretary is that he is more cautious than they are about preemptive war. The letter also implies that U.S. policy should be to show an itchy trigger finger to the world: mess with us and there is a good chance we will bomb you.

It's one idea of national strength, and not a new one, but Republicans should also understand that it is not bipartisan gospel, and that the Bush Doctrine may not stand the test of time.

Also, the chances of Obama actually withdrawing Hagel more or less plunged to zero with Shelby's support. Hagel will likely be confirmed soon, with at least 15 votes against him.

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