Chuck Hagel Will Help Obama Find his “Inner Nixon”


hagel hand clemons.jpgOne of these days, I’m going to post a long roster of foreign policy speeches and other writing by Senator Chuck Hagel. I’ll set The Washington Note up as the journal of record of “Hagelism” since I believe that we as a nation are going to be repeatedly coming back to his strategically sensible framework for thinking about national security and international political and policy issues.
Slowly, I’ve been weazling out of America’s national security bureaucracy a Hagel letter here and there that was addressed to Condi Rice or President Bush or some other significant player in the incumbent administration who ether contributed to or didn’t stop the swift erosion of America’s national security portfolio.
Hagel has been a trooper trying to help the Bush administration see the dangers ahead. He has been writing these thoughtful, prescient letters for years — and thus far, only a couple have seen the light of day.
Essentially, Chuck Hagel has reinforced over and over again that America needs to balance between stewardship of its core interests on the one hand, and on the other help to responsibly expand when it can prosperity, stability, democratic norms and self-determination.
He is the “no false choice” guy. He doesn’t burn bridges. He believes in principled, englightened American engagement in global affairs. He doesn’t want to see the US national security bureaucracy in a false standoff between Israel’s security interests and the Arab Middle East’s longer term objectives of stability and prosperity — and knows that America must not choose one over the other.
Hagel has opposed false trade-offs between embracing Eastern European nations (and even helping to create new ones) and Russia’s serious national priorities. He gets how transnational threats are challenging the fabric of states — not just networked, transnational terrorism but also refugee, disease, poverty and climate change crises.
Hagel believes in game-changing strategies with Iran. I think he probably thinks along the same lines when it comes to Syria and possibly even Cuba. To some degree, putting Syria on a new track robs Iran of some running room in much the same way that opening the spigots of engagement with Cuba rob Hugo Chavez of maneuvering room in Latin America.
Hagel is a hard-edged negotiator who has a vision of alternative equilibriums and is not an appeaser of global (or Senate) thugs. Like few others in the Senate — with perhaps Biden, Dodd, Feingold, Lugar, and formerly Lincoln Chafee as excepetions — Hagel knows that diplomacy is the more important force that must be deployed in such a way that process generates previously concealed or obscure openings and opportunities.
I have spoken to Senator Hagel on several occasions and believe that he thinks America must not wall itself off from enemies but must engage, wrestle with, intimidate, and seduce them. This, Hagel feels, may be the only method America has at its disposal to leap frog out of the quagmire it is in today into a new equilibrium, establishing a redrawn “deal” with other global stakeholders.
The world is at a historical pivot point — and America is too slowly realizing that inertia and incrementalism are keeping it from shaking up things and getting ahead of events in a new and constructive way. America’s foreign policy today is ad hoc, reactive — with little regard to what we hope the world will look like and what our place in world affairs will be decades from now.
At heart, Hagel is an evolved, internationally progressive Richard Nixon — and I wish that he had found himself debating either Barack Obama or John McCain tonight. But he won’t be president — at least not this round — but he is the right guy to be Secretary of State in the next administration.
I think Obama will win on November 4th — but I’m not offering this as an endorsement. It’s just where very strong winds are blowing — and to a certain degree, strikingly large macro factors have given Obama a tail wind that is covering up both the strengths and weaknesses of candidate Obama. Unless another large exogenous hit bursts on the American political scene, circumstances will push Barack Obama strongly forward into 1600 Pennsylvania.
But whether or not Obama wins the White House, Chuck Hagel would be the right Secretary of State for either McCain or Obama. McCain’s flirtation with an expansive, neoconservative agenda has been terrible for his campaign and has frightened Americans and much of the world with its calloused hubris.
I think that there are other good candidates to be chief diplomat — including Senator John Kerry who seems to want a post of major import in the next administration and yes, even Richard Holbrooke who has it in his DNA to play that role one day.
But when Senator Obama chose Joe Biden to be his Vice Presidential choice, to some degree that lessened the near term need (they would be ideal for round two appointments) for either Holbrooke who is a well-seasoned, progressively focused arm-twister (like no other in international affairs) and for John Kerry who basically looks a lot like Biden in his foreign policy views.
But Hagel is Nixon — more so than any of the candidates who ran for office — more than Obama, Biden, Dodd, Huckabee, Brownback, McCain, Romney, Edwards, Clinton, Tancredo, Paul — even Bill Richardson.
And this next administration needs a 21st century Nixonian hand who thinks naturally in those terms and sees the third and fourth and fifth dimension to problems — who understands that interests are not only national but international in impact and consequence and who understands that the wall separating economics and national security is false and should figure into Obama’s next “World Without Walls” speech.
Senator Hagel has been in Asia the last several days — visiting Japan, China, and South Korea — getting a sense of the strategic situation surrounding the seeming accomplishments of Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill in getting North Korea to agree again to invasive nuclear program inspections and further disabling its nuclear capacity in exchange for the US dropping it from the state sponsors of terror list.
Hagel is also taking stock of what China’s and Japan’s next moves in the global economy might look like — and how they are viewing America’s situation after much of the world is fuming at America for exporting poisoned financial products that virally spread leveling some of the world’s largest economic firms and nations.
On the home front, Hagel’s wife, Lilibet, will be watching the presidential debates tonight with Michelle Obama. Lilibet Hagel has endorsed Barack Obama for president, and Chuck Hagel has remained quiet for the time being.
Rumors are swirling that Chuck Hagel — and Colin Powell — may both endorse Barack Obama in the days shortly after this debate. I have no idea if that is true — and to some degree it doesn’t matter.
In the case of Powell — he is a sensible national security realist and cautious general who Obama (if he wins) should solicit advice from frequently.
But at the State Department, Chuck Hagel is the right guy to work with Barack Obama and Joe Biden in helping to move a mostly liberal administration towards a Nixonian direction that may feel alien and uncomfortable.
This is essentially what Bill Clinton did when he came into office and found despite his lack of interest in foreign policy (then) that Yeltsin’s Russia was imploding. Clinton got on the phone with Nixon and began a set of encounters and tutorials that helped Clinton manage the Russia challenge — and which helped contribute to the national rehabilitation of Richard Nixon in the eyes of many.
Many of Senator and possibly President Obama’s close retainers and acolytes may cringe at the thought of channeling Richard Nixon — but they will need his approach to global affairs in a time marked by the globally perceived decline of American moral, military and economic leadership.
Senator Chuck Hagel is trusted around the world, respected — and not for being nice — but rather for being straightforward with friends and rivals about the poorly understood fact that there are nearly always opportunities in persistent diplomacy and statecraft.
And most importantly, Chuck Hagel is the right guy to help an Obama administration embrace its “inner Nixon.”
— Steve Clemons


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