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by Jules Witcover
After all the thunder and lightning signifying nothing but more Republican obstructionism, former Sen. Chuck Hagel has taken over at the Pentagon, vowing a realistic approach to America's military role in the world.
Not surprisingly, he indicated he will pursue President Obama's course of selective engagement, in contrast to the interventionism of the previous Republican administration, although he didn't specifically mention its war of choice in Iraq and other misadventurism.
"We can't dictate in the world," Hagel told
That view coincided with the first major challenge he faces, in the sharp budget cuts in military spending involved in Obama's tug-of-war with Republican congressional leaders over deficit reduction vs. higher taxes on the rich.
Before Hagel's nomination was confirmed by a 58-41
If so, they will be able take some credit. They turned his confirmation hearing into a star-chamber proceeding on Hagel's past observations on the war in Iraq and pressures from the pro-Israel lobby. In the weeks thereafter, they continued a drumbeat aimed at creating a public impression that the Nebraskan was a gone goose. It reached the point where Sen. John McCain, leading the charge, flatly called Hagel unqualified to run the Pentagon, before finally acknowledging he would be confirmed.
Throughout that strong Republican effort to derail his nomination, Obama remained committed to get the man he wanted at Defense. In the end, his choice of a Republican didn't help him much with Senate Republicans, many of whom considered Hagel an unreliable cousin.
Obama got an independent thinker whose own decorated combat service in Vietnam made him sympathetic to the military, but not a knee-jerk advocate of all its budget demands.
Undoubtedly, as Hagel tackles the task of taming Pentagon spending, those critics disappointed at his confirmation will recall that he once talked about a "bloated" defense establishment. But within a reshaped second-term Obama administration, he seems a good fit with Obama and others determined to scale back the U.S. engagement abroad.
Hagel was an old ally of Vice President Joe Biden when he was chairman of the
Hagel joined Biden and then Sen. John Kerry, now Obama's secretary of state, on committee fact-finding tours of Afghanistan, India, Turkey and Pakistan. In 2002, he joined Biden and Republican Sen. Richard Lugar in 2002 in a resolution that would have limited President George W. Bush's invasion of Iraq as a last resort for disarming the country of its alleged weapons of mass destruction. Bush saw to it that the resolution went nowhere.
After the war started, Hagel joined Biden and Lugar in a trip to Iraq and later with them cosponsored a resolution opposing Bush's plans to put in 20,000 more American troops to deal with disintegrating internal security. And he strongly urged Obama's decision to choose Biden as his running mate.
Whatever the Senate Republicans and other
At the same time, considering what often appears to a paranoid determination of a disappointed
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