Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Nominees to Grill

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Nominees to Grill

Article excerpt

Before they can expect confirmation by the Senate, Chuck Hagel and John Brennan have serious questions to answer.

In nominating Chuck Hagel to be defense secretary and John Brennan to be director of the Central Intelligence Agency, President Obama has selected two trusted advisers who could help him set a new tone, and conceivably a new direction, on issues of war and peace in his second term. But both candidates must provide answers to serious questions before they can expect confirmation by the Senate.

It is a puzzle that Mr. Obama has nominated as defense secretary a person whose views on gay rights are in question at this sensitive time in the Pentagon's evolution. The military's odious "don't ask, don't tell" rule was finally legislated out of existence in 2011. But there is a long way to go to ensure that equal rights are institutionalized.

While a member of the Senate from Nebraska in 1998, Mr. Hagel criticized the nomination of James Hormel to be ambassador to Luxembourg because he was "openly, aggressively gay." That was a repugnant reason to oppose anyone for public office. Last month, Mr. Hagel issued a statement in which he described his comments 14 years ago as "insensitive," apologized to Mr. Hormel and insisted he was "fully supportive of 'open service' and committed to L.G.B.T. military families."

Some leading foreign policy professionals who are gay, including Mr. Hormel, have since said they could support Mr. Hagel's candidacy. Still, it will be important to hear Mr. Hagel explain at his confirmation hearing how his views have changed and how he plans to make sure that all service members are treated equally and receive the same benefits regardless of sexual orientation. It would also help if he acknowledged that his past comments were not just insensitive but abhorrent.

On national security policy, there is much to like about Mr. Hagel, one of a fading breed of sensible moderate Republicans. Mr. Obama hailed him as "the leader that our troops deserve." Mr. Hagel's experience as a decorated veteran of the Vietnam War should give him a special rapport with the troops as well as make him an authoritative voice on the measured use of force. Like Mr. Obama, Mr. Hagel has been deeply critical of the war in Iraq and is believed to favor a more rapid drawdown of troops from Afghanistan. …

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