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Hagel’s Top Qualifications? His Infantry Service — And Strong Veteran Support

Memo Pad Politics

Hagel’s Top Qualifications? His Infantry Service — And Strong Veteran Support


The sickening effort to defame Chuck Hagel as anti-Semitic and anti-Israel has been comprehensively debunked, in detail, while its neoconservative authors – notably the convicted liar Eliot Abrams – have once more disgraced themselves in an attempt to deceive the public (much like their false, ruinous campaign promoting the invasion of Iraq). While these characters always seem beyond embarrassment, it may be hoped that they at last inflicted permanent damage on their own credibility.

Yet by highlighting baseless accusations against the president’s nominee for Defense Secretary, they drew attention away from what ought to be considered Hagel’s most important qualification for that job: his combat service in Vietnam. It isn’t the heroism he displayed or the decorations he won there, although those entitle him to great respect; it is his understanding of the true costs of war, and his commitment to protecting the men and women who serve from warped policy and corrupt leadership.

A former infantryman who still carries shrapnel in his chest, had his eardrums blown out, and was nearly killed rescuing his own brother in a firefight — earning two Purple Hearts — Hagel would be the first enlisted soldier to serve as Secretary of Defense.

Over the past decade, observers both within and outside the armed services have lamented the increasing gulf between those who wear the American uniform and the rest of American society, including the leaders who send them abroad to fight and die. The prejudice against hiring veterans among employers, the high rates of divorce, mental illness, homelessness, unemployment, debt, and suicide among veterans, and the alienation that so many veterans feel as a result, all seem to result from a system that exempts everyone except those “volunteers” from service. Even as they hear plenty of easy praise for their courage and sacrifice, they cannot help feeling that those words are often hollow.

The invasion of Iraq under false pretenses and the mismanagement of the war in Afghanistan — along with the grotesque levels of corruption in both — constituted a severe breach of trust that fell very heavily upon those in uniform. Withdrawal alone will not repair the damage done to the American military by its cynical misuse under the previous administration, where the prevalence of “chicken-hawks” like Dick Cheney and John Bolton only exacerbated the damage.

To fully restore morale after all this abuse will take years. What might hasten the healing process, however, is the confirmation of a principled veteran such as Hagel, whose priorities and values are clearly oriented toward the men and women who serve.

That is why a broad coalition of his fellow soldiers has enthusiastically endorsed his nomination, from retired General Colin Powell and the Veterans of Foreign Wars to organizations that represent more recent veterans, such as Vote Vets and Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. Vote Vets founder Jon Soltz, a progressive leader who served two tours in Iraq and one in Kosovo, praised Hagel unreservedly as “the best nomination” Obama has made since assuming the presidency. “This is a guy who cares about what happens to the soldier or Marine on the ground,” Soltz says. “This is someone who’s going to ask, is this worth the sacrifice?”

Hagel possesses substantive knowledge and personal qualities – as many of his Senate colleagues, including conservative Republicans, have noted in years past – that fit him well for this crucial position. None is more important at the moment, however, than the respect, support, and trust of the troops who will look to him for leadership.

Photo credit: Associated Press

Joe Conason

A highly experienced journalist, author and editor, Joe Conason is the editor-in-chief of The National Memo, founded in July 2011. He was formerly the executive editor of the New York Observer, where he wrote a popular political column for many years. His columns are distributed by Creators Syndicate and his reporting and writing have appeared in many publications around the world, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, The New Yorker, The New Republic, The Nation, and Harpers. Since November 2006, he has served as editor of The Investigative Fund, a nonprofit journalism center, where he has assigned and edited dozens of award-winning articles and broadcasts. He is also the author of two New York Times bestselling books, The Hunting of the President (St. Martins Press, 2000) and Big Lies: The Right-Wing Propaganda Machine and How It Distorts the Truth (St. Martins Press, 2003). Currently he is working on a new book about former President Bill Clinton's life and work since leaving the White House in 2001. He is a frequent guest on radio and television, including MSNBC's Morning Joe, and lives in New York City with his wife and two children.

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  1. Stephan Ostanock January 11, 2013

    100% SUPPORT FOR Senator[ 1st enlisted real Vietnam war man] Chuck Hagel, for SECDEF!

  2. Dominick Vila January 11, 2013

    Sen. Hagel’s military service, and his long tenure in Congress, make him eminently qualified for the post of Secretary of Defense. The criticisms being expressed by his fellow Republicans, who until recently hailed him as a hero, have little to do with his opinions about the influence the Jewish lobby has over American policy making, or the fact that he believes diplomacy should be given a chance in dealing with our differences with Iran before resorting to lethal force. Those views are share by most Americans, including his critics, and are logical conclusions deserving of respect, if nothing else for having the courage to say things that impair the ability of our special interests to pursue their geopolitical and greedy goals.
    I would have preferred if President Obama had chosen a Democrat for the post, mostly because I believe gestures such as this will not lead to a quid pro quo by intransigent Republicans, but there is no doubt that Hagel’s record and courage make him uniquely qualified for the post.
    Let’s face it, the opposition and criticisms expressed by the GOP has little to do with Hagel’s, Brennan’s or Lew’s qualifications and record, it is all about discrediting President Obama and ensuring his presidency is considered a failure.

  3. rhallnj January 11, 2013

    Just get a few of his fellow Vietnam veterans to testify at the confirmation, and the Republicans will fold fast.

    1. Rvn_sgt6768 January 11, 2013

      Problem there is that Congress only likes to hear from Rich Chicken-Hawk General officers. Grunts need not apply.

  4. nobsartist January 11, 2013

    I can see why they dont like Hagel. He could be the only one in Washington with balls and actual experience in something.

    Time to throw the lawyers out of Washington.

  5. John Sehler January 11, 2013

    You show me a man who experienced combat and I will show you a man who has seen God. There are no atheist in foxholes. This alone qualifies Hagel for the position.

    1. m8lsem January 11, 2013


    2. Sand_Cat January 11, 2013

      Not true. Why do you drag an attack on atheism into a comment on the secretary of defense nominee?

    3. Warren Nicholson January 11, 2013

      I am a retired Master Sergeant with 26 years service. I also served in Vet Nam. God was AWOL the entire time. Maybe he had five deferments like Dick Cheney!

  6. m8lsem January 11, 2013

    I used to hate the draft, especially when it came looking for me. However, some years later I must concede that it served a major purpose not then spoken of, though it manifested itself in the anti-war movement. And that purpose was to make the war personal to virtually everyone.

    An all volunteer army is a ‘them’ to everyone not serving nor parenting the ‘them’.

    With a draft, the army is an ‘us’ — because maybe it comes looking for me, maybe it comes looking for my child or my grandchild, or my neighbor’s. The ‘risk’ side of the proposed war belongs to an ‘us.’

    When war does not threaten me or mine, then to go to war becomes a more academic exercise, and the war when begun does not intrude into my thoughts the way it would if my immediate family were or might become directly involved.

    The appointment of Sen Hagel to DoD is the best news I’ve heard in a long time in terms of exactly the point made. He knows precisely what it is like to serve in a modern war when the enemy wears no uniform and often blends with the uninvolved (?) farmer.

    1. oldtack January 11, 2013

      I agree with your observation. I too am a veteran. In my day as in yours a War situation involved ALL of draft age thus it became an Us war. Today it is definitely a “them” war. I have three healthy grandsons but none are in Military Service – not because they are “cowards” it’s because they don’t have to and they don’t have to worry about involvement because there is no Draft Board. In this all volunteer “them” War no one is concerned about the death of 4,000 or 40,000 troops because it is a “them” war.

      I propose re-implementation of a draft with no deferments . Maybe if this was in effect our “leaders” would give more serious thought when it comes to engaging in Wars.

      1. Vernon Sukumu January 11, 2013

        I’am a military veteran I agree with your assessment on the( them war) but not your solution. I’am against all wars, we have had enough, my children didn’t go, I would’t let them have a toy gun, enough, enough, enough already. If the money and lives, we have lost trough out human history, had been spent on human development, most of the people on this planet could live like it was Monaco or Disney land,” maybe not” but certainly better then most human live today. How about 100 yrs 500 yrs total world wide disarmament. The only weapon we would keep are for museums and a international force to fight space aliens, no exception.

      2. Plznnn January 13, 2013

        Trouble with the draft is, those “leaders” will find a way to keep their children out of being drafted, and many will claim deferrments. People in the military will be there that don’t want to be there. But I believe everybody, to be an American, should serve time in our military……especially anyone wanting to become an American Citizen, such as Legal Immigrants.

    2. johninPCFL January 11, 2013

      I wholeheartedly agree with everything you so eloquently say.

      1. Fern Woodfork January 13, 2013

        Same Here In Short What Happen This Week Is The Same Old Rerun Crap The GOP/Tea Party American Taliban Has Been Pulling For The Last Four Years Nobody Is Right If Obama Picked Them, Every Bad Thing That Happened In America It’s Obama Fault, Just More Blocking, Filibustering, And Lying Our American Taliban Do So Well!! SCREW THEM!!! WE Want To Move FORWARD!!! Without Going To Wars!!!

    3. Rvn_sgt6768 January 11, 2013

      As a fellow draftee and survivor of infantry combat the concept is an “all volunteer” military leaves me cold. It is not just the shared sacrifice element missing but also the fact of how an ailing economy tends to skew who the “volunteers” are and why they volunteered. The difference between US and RA in Vietnam, at least in 1967 and 1968, could not be detected. The problem is how the military is used and that problem is especially horrific today. One tour or deployment is enough and many tours are too much. When the reasons for the conflict have to change as in the Iraq war (which should not have been fought in the first place) to justify fighting the war then it is time to fire the civilian leadership who is advocating the wars. Fire them and prosecute them for their crimes in leading us (US) into a war in the first place.

      1. good muslim January 13, 2013

        Tutu: Bush, Blair should face trial at the Hague
        By DAVID STRINGER | Associated Press –09/02/2012
        Associated Press/Ashwini Bhatia, File – FILE – Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his part in fighting apartheid, speaks during a felicitation event for him in Dharmsala, India, in this Feb. 10, 2012 file photo. Archbishop Desmond Tutu in an op-ed piece in the Observer Sunday Sept. 2, 2012 has called for Tony Blair and George Bush to be hauled before an international criminal court and delivered a damning critique of the physical and moral devastation caused by the Iraq war.
        LONDON (AP) 09/02/2012 — Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Desmond Tutu called Sunday for Tony Blair and George Bush to face prosecution at the International Criminal Court for their role in the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq
        Tutu, the retired Anglican Church’s archbishop of South Africa, wrote in an op-ed piece for The Observer newspaper that the ex-leaders of Britain and the United States should be made to “answer for their actions

  7. docb January 11, 2013

    I think that the American people are being left out..People of my generation, late 60’s, would like to see a person of experience in War and not beholden to the neocon war mongers at the Defense Dept!

    Honesty and integrity play a role as well..No career politician or party patsy! Call you Senator to confirm Hagel..we need him!

    1.866.311.3405 or 1.866. 220.0044

  8. labrown69 January 11, 2013

    We have been poisoning our troops in Iraq with Sodium dichromate. We learned nothing from Agent Orange other than that it is cost effective to use our young men and woman as garbage to be fed into a meat grinder and then down the disposal. To Hell with our Military. If a foreign country is a real threat, nuke them out of existence and if it is not, stay the hell home!

  9. Dennis Hoover January 11, 2013

    Thank you Mr Conason for having the journalistic courage to speak out and discredit failed Neo Cons as you wrote here: “The invasion of Iraq under false pretenses and the mismanagement of the war in Afghanistan — along with the grotesque levels of corruption in both — constituted a severe breach of trust that fell very heavily upon those in uniform. Withdrawal alone will not repair the damage done to the American military by its cynical misuse under the previous administration, where the prevalence of “chicken-hawks” like Dick Cheney and John Bolton only exacerbated the damage.”

    I wrote a comment on HUFFINGTON POST, similar and included William Kristol and his Groupies in “THE PROJECT FOR THE NEW AMERICAN CENTURY” from which Bush drew nearly 40 of his planners for the Iraq war, which by the way was planned for and included war with Iran even prior to 911. I stated there and will here that ALL THESE PEOPLE DESERVE IS OUR SEVERE DISDAIN, THEY SHOULD BE DISCREDITED ON ANY MEDIA WHERE THEY ARE TROTTED OUT AS AUTHORITIES ON MILITARY ISSUES. THEY SHOULD BE PUT OUT OF OUR NATIONAL DISCUSSION BASED ON THEIR FAILURES AND THE TERRIBLE RESULTS OF THEM.



  10. annienoel January 11, 2013

    When Hagel’s nomination was made I was happy to have a former Enlisted man as Sec. Def. But this man’s ideas on rape and abortion are carbon copies of Akin and Mourdock. The military has a rape problem. We need to find out what his current stance is before we whole-heartedly support him.

  11. nana4gj January 11, 2013

    I concur. Hagel will focus on the wise, just, and responsible use of resources within the DOD, budgetary, philosophical, and, most importantly, human resources. In so doing, he has the potential to address the bloated expenses, the hubris of the military hierarchy, and, those serving in the trenches and ekeing out a living at home, will have a strong Advocate.

    I believe he has enough military experience, enough political experience, enough management experience in the private sector, to be able to do his job with respect for all and still be candid and practical.

    At the end of the day, it is Character that defines anyone’s suitability for a position of leadership within the government and that should be the first qualification. I do not say former Sec’y of DOD did not have Character, yet, one does come to mind, but this man has demonstrated strong Character and Integrity to do and say the hard things from core convictions.

    An example of Character, from dubious to none: The Texas Governor pushed to create a Texas Institute for Cancer Research, arguing on the research and development of cures for cancer, for which everyone came on board. Now, he exhorts the tax funded project that the first priority is to make money.

    By their deeds, words, Republicans of today destroyed all credibility a long time ago, for me. They object so often, so heatedly, so repeatedly; they obstruct as their default position on any issue; and the only issue on which they can “function”, no matter how heinously, is the issue that contains a uterus, and on that, they are obnoxious.

    Their objections and positions, as well as their defamation of others, no longer carries any “weight” and does not influence, save for not even damaging their target, but, rather, for making complete fools of themselves.

  12. oldtack January 11, 2013

    I think I conveyed the wrong impression with the way I worded my post. Like you – I am anti-war. I don’t want my grandchildren or anyone’s children to ever have to see the horrors of war.
    My point on draft with no deferment was that maybe , with the possibility of some of their loved ones serving and possibly losing their lives, that would make our “war hawks” in this country think long and hard before they advocate sending our Military personnel to War anywhere for any cause.

    My wife and I have a 5013c program and we have sent “care” packs of socks and toiletries plus some needed clothing to Troops in the War zones. To date we have sent to over 55,000 troops. In addition we work with the families of deployed troops and also work with wounded Troops and with Gold Star families that have lost a loved one. If our “war hawks” could be exposed to the sufferings of these citizens they could see first hand the horrors of war.

    Again -I apologize for my poor choice of words.

    1. Vernon Sukumu January 11, 2013


  13. Sand_Cat January 11, 2013

    If he can’t find a qualified Democrat or independent, we don’t need a secretary of “defense.” The fact that hagel isn’t as insane as the current GOP party leaders doesn’t change his opposition to reproductive care for female soldiers. With rape a common occurrence in the services today, even though most of it is “legitimate,” some women do get pregnant. Chuck is likely to assure they can’t get this service in military hospitals.

    He likely shares many of the other faults common to GOP senators; unfortunately, I don’t recall the specific action, but my recollection is that his behavior was repugnant when he was a senator.

  14. JohnRNC January 11, 2013

    I agree with the comments about the draft and the shared responsibility of defending the country.

    I also agree with Sen. Hagel when he speaks out against Israel’s behavior. Like any other “ally”, our support should not be a blank check but predicated on their participation in our shared interests and the shared interests of the world. Unconditional support [based on our ‘unique bond’] provides no incentive for them to take responsibility for their actions particularly when it jeopardizes our national security and drags us toward war.

    One would think that in a country that takes pride in free speech, citizens can make rational arguments about the inappropriate behavior of an ally without being called a racist

  15. bchrista January 11, 2013

    The Republicans would have loved Hagel to death if he hadn’t agreed to work for Obama since then he is PERSONNA NON GRATA as I stated before and agreed to by some of the people tht post articals on this line it doesn’t matter who Obama nominates the teapartiers are against them their sole thrust is to disrupt any thing associated with Obama and I am like a lot of people that feel that Bush,Cheney and Bolton should be presecuted for crimes against humanity, #1 cutting taxes to hide the fact he was chaneling big time money to his milliomare, billionare and companies dealing with governments over seas some of them hostile to the US #2 by starting two wars to hide the skimming they did and not being able to explain the disappearence of Billionsof dollars that Haliburton charged the military during the Iraq war #3 by the execution of Mommar Gadaffi the only person that the terrerist feared, He neturalized Osama Bin Laden, wouldn’t dare chalange Mommar, once Bush and his buddies removed Mommar all hell broke loose and no one has been able to stop them, everytime we eliminate one of their leaders another one pops up. Mommar had the solution everytime one of them defied him he would cut their heads off denying them entrance into heaven and their share of the 50 whores so they didn’t fuck with him, thanks Bush.

  16. oldtack January 13, 2013

    I agree. Everyone should be subject to Service. To accomplish this there would have to be a Zero deferment clause – and – with the power brokers – that ain’t a ever gonna happen. But – that is the way it should be down here in the real world.

  17. onedonewong January 13, 2013

    The fact that hagel is opposed to gays in the military makes him the best qualified Obama nomination ever. You have my support Chuck


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