Skip to main content

Vote no and send a message to Hagel

By David Frum, CNN Contributor
updated 12:21 PM EST, Tue February 26, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • David Frum: Chuck Hagel's criticism of Israeli policy is damaging
  • He says Hagel has spoken out against the U.S. striking Iran's nuclear facilities
  • Republicans can't defeat Hagel, but they should go on record opposing nomination, he says
  • Frum: Filibustering the nomination is a mistake; presidents should pick their Cabinet

Editor's note: David Frum, a CNN contributor, is a contributing editor at Newsweek and The Daily Beast. He is the author of eight books, including a new novel, "Patriots," and a post-election e-book, "Why Romney Lost." Frum was a special assistant to President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2002.

(CNN) -- Republicans face two decisions about the nomination of Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense: how to vote and whether to filibuster.

The vote decision should be easy: Nay, and for three reasons:

1) Hagel's history of contentious comments about the policies of the state of Israel is not merely obnoxious. That record will also severely impede his effectiveness in his portfolio. Israel is the United States' most capable strategic partner in the world's most turbulent region. Successful U.S. policy requires effective cooperation with Israel. In the 1990-91 Gulf War, Saddam Hussein attempted to wreck the U.S.-led alliance to rescue Kuwait by firing missiles at Israel. The United States asked Israel not to retaliate. This was an extraordinary and excruciating request. It's impossible to imagine the United States exercising similar restraint. Yet Israel complied.

David Frum
David Frum

Israel complied on that occasion -- and dozens of others -- because of the deep trust and respect between Israel and the United States. The Hagel nomination will strain that trust and complicate U.S. policy.

Cornyn: Why I can't support Hagel

2) Hagel has put himself on record during the Bush administration, opposing a U.S. strike against Iranian nuclear facilities. It's not a problem that he thinks that way. It is a very big problem that he has spoken that way. Remember, the Obama administration insists that "all options are on the table" against Iran. It's important that the Iranians believe that. Appointing a secretary of defense who has already stated his opposition to the use of force severely corrodes the credibility of U.S. threats of force.

3) The next secretary of defense will preside over the steepest build-down of U.S. forces since the end of the Korean War. Reducing forces while preserving strength will present a daunting managerial challenge. Nothing in Hagel's career suggests he is equal to the task; and Hagel's underwhelming confirmation hearing strongly suggests he will not be equal to it. I can't remember any previous Cabinet appointee who handed in so dismaying a performance under senatorial questioning. Secretary of defense is too important a job for a man who has himself raised so many doubts about his basic competence.

News: Obama's national security policy resembles Eisenhower's

New anti-Hagel push
Hagel and the new balance of power

Of course, the Democratic majority holds the votes to confirm Hagel even if Republicans unanimously vote "nay." The only way Republicans can stop the nomination is by filibuster. Should they? My answer to that is again: No.

The drift of the Senate away from majority rule to a new standard of 60-vote rule is a dangerous trend. It is especially dangerous in the context of presidential appointments. To allow 40 senators to block a Cabinet secretary is to move closer to the day when a minority of the Senate can altogether prevent the staffing  of an administration. We've already moved ominously far in that direction.

Zelizer: GOP, don't fight the Hagel nomination

Democrats filibustered President George W. Bush's nomination of John Bolton as U.N. ambassador. Although it's tempting to execute payback, it's better to lay down the rule for the benefit of the next Republican president: Presidents are entitled to staff their administrations with the people they want.

You may ask: But doesn't a "nay" vote by the minority accomplish nothing unless backed by a filibuster?

That question earns a third "No." The margin of a Senate confirmation vote sends a powerful message to the confirmed official. John Kerry's 97-0 confirmation as secretary of state empowers him.

A party-line vote on Hagel will restrain him. A party-line vote will demonstrate to the whole country Hagel's low standing with the Senate. Hagel will know that Congress is watching him distrustfully, that he will lack the authority and prestige of his other Cabinet colleagues, and that his first job in office must be to prove himself deserving of the job to which he was so grudgingly confirmed.

A party-line vote on the Hagel nomination will hold the president to account without paralyzing the administration. It's the right one-two response to this disappointing choice by a president who seems determined to use his second term to provoke and attack his opponents rather than to unite and lead the country.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of David Frum.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 8:37 AM EDT, Tue October 28, 2014
Errol Louis says forced to choose between narrow political advantage and the public good, the governors showed they are willing to take the easy way out over Ebola.
updated 2:03 PM EDT, Mon October 27, 2014
Eric Liu says with our family and friends and neighbors, each one of us must decide what kind of civilization we expect in the United States. It's our responsibility to set tone and standards, with our laws and norms
updated 7:45 AM EDT, Mon October 27, 2014
Sally Kohn says the UNC report highlights how some colleges exploit student athletes while offering little in return
updated 3:04 PM EDT, Sun October 26, 2014
Terrorists don't represent Islam, but Muslims must step up efforts to counter some of the bigotry within the world of Islam, says Fareed Zakaria
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Scott Yates says extending Daylight Saving Time could save energy, reduce heart attacks and get you more sleep
updated 8:32 PM EDT, Sun October 26, 2014
Reza Aslan says the interplay between beliefs and actions is a lot more complicated than critics of Islam portray
updated 7:19 AM EDT, Mon October 27, 2014
Julian Zelizer says control of the Senate will be decided by a few close contests
updated 8:12 AM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
The response of some U.S. institutions that should know better to Ebola has been anything but inspiring, writes Idris Ayodeji Bello.
updated 5:01 PM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
Paul Callan says the grand jury is the right process to use to decide if charges should be brought against the police officer
updated 12:19 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Theresa Brown says the Ebola crisis brought nurses into the national conversation on health care. They need to stay there.
updated 6:35 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Patrick Hornbeck says don't buy the hype: The arguments the Vatican used in its interim report would have virtually guaranteed that same-sex couples remained second class citizens
updated 12:30 PM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
The Swedes will find sitting on the fence to be increasingly uncomfortable with Putin as next door neighbor, writes Gary Schmitt
updated 12:32 PM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
The Ottawa shooting pre-empted Malala's appearances in Canada, but her message to young people needs to be spread, writes Frida Ghitis
updated 9:48 PM EDT, Sat October 25, 2014
Paul Begala says Iowa's U.S. Senate candidate, Joni Ernst, told NRA she has right to use gun to defend herself--even from the government. But shooting at officials is not what the Founders had in mind
updated 6:08 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
John Sutter: Why are we so surprised the head of a major international corporation learned another language?
updated 5:54 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Jason Johnson says Ferguson isn't a downtrodden community rising up against the white oppressor, but it is looking for justice
updated 12:21 PM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Sally Kohn says a video of little girls dressed as princesses using the F-word very loudly to condemn sexism is provocative. But is it exploitative?
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
updated 10:14 AM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
updated 12:00 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
updated 7:35 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
updated 9:12 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT