Chuck Hagel: An Example of What Politics Does

Chuck Hagel has just resigned as the Secretary of Defense, although his resignation was probably highly encouraged.  His story is an interesting one, as it serves as a good example of the almost uselessness of politics.  He is also an example of where a lack of hardcore principles ends badly.

Unlike many politicians, Hagel actually had a business career that did not depend solely on government favors.  He helped found Vanguard Cellular, which made him a multi-millionaire.  It was a mobile phone service carrier formed in 1984, when mobile phones were quite primitive compared to today.

Hagel was a U.S. Senator from Nebraska from 1997 to 2009 (2 terms).  While he was elected as a Republican, he had some differences with the establishment of his party, particularly during the Bush years.

Hagel voted with the majority of Republicans in support of the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts.  He also voted for the Patriot Act, which perhaps should have been a sign of caution for civil libertarians who later supported Hagel and had high hopes for him.

From a pro-liberty standpoint, Hagel voted against No Child Left Behind, against the Medicare prescription drug bill, and against McCain-Feingold.  These were some of his better moments in defecting from the Republican establishment.

In 2002, Hagel voted in favor of the resolution to go to war in Iraq.  However, unlike most other Republicans in Washington DC, he later reversed course on Iraq.  He voted in 2007 for a troop withdrawal and he became something of a critic on the war.  He lost favor with the Republican Party and started to gain favor with Democrats.

After Obama was re-elected in 2012, he nominated Hagel for Secretary of Defense.  Whether or not it was a political move, Obama wanted someone in his cabinet from “across the aisle”.  Hagel was a somewhat obvious choice because of his previous opposition to remaining in Iraq.  Hagel became Secretary of Defense in February 2013 after getting approval from the Senate.

Political Power

It is amazing how people change once they are in office.  We see it all the time, but it is still almost unbelievable how all principles go out the window once in power.

We see it with Republicans all the time when they promise smaller government, only to expand it and find government solutions in most everything.

We see it with Democrats who promise more peace and a less interventionist foreign policy.  Once they get in to power, they continue the spying and war making.

Obama was elected as the anti-Bush candidate.  He opposed the war in Iraq.  He campaigned on greater civil liberties, including shutting down detention centers for accused terrorists.

While nominating Hillary Clinton for Secretary of State was a bad sign of the things to come, Obama’s nomination of Chuck Hagel four years later may have looked a little bit promising.  But, as usual, big government wins.

Interestingly, the position of Secretary of Defense actually comes from what was previously called the Secretary of War.  Since the Defense Secretary now has little to do with defense and a lot to do with war, the previous cabinet position was more accurately named for today’s times.

Under Hagel’s watch, we have seen continued war in Afghanistan.  We have seen the U.S. government help overthrow the president in Ukraine and start something of a war there, along with renewed tensions with Russia.

We have seen continued bombing in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia.  The U.S. government almost started a major war with Syria under Hagel’s watch, but was forced to back down due to significant opposition.  Now the military is being sent back to Iraq, with U.S. bombs raining down on Iraq and Syria.

That is quite a record for Obama and Hagel, the supposedly peace people.  I’m not sure it would have been possible to see that much war out of a third Bush term.

I don’t know if Hagel truly changed his mind on the Iraq War or if he started opposing it for political reasons.  But it didn’t matter once he was in his new office.  At that point, all political principle goes out the window.  You have to play ball with the establishment and the establishment was in favor of more war and continued intervention overseas.

While some non-interventionists may see Hagel’s time as Defense Secretary a letdown, it was really just a good example of what happens in politics.  If he had publicly opposed any of the Obama administration interventions, then he would have been forced out earlier.  You have to be willing to play ball or you will be kicked out of the game.

Perhaps Hagel did oppose much of the administration’s meddling and war making in foreign lands, but he did not do it in public forcefully.  He may have voiced opposition behind closed doors and that is probably why he is leaving.  He wasn’t quite hawkish enough for Obama and the establishment.

So who will take Hagel’s place as Defense Secretary?  Does it matter?