When Chuck Hagel walks into his hearings before the Senate Armed Services Committee this morning, he'll be a favorite (though not a sure thing) to win confirmation as secretary of defense. But he still won't be a favorite of many progressives.
By now, high-profile Democratic senators have gotten in line behind the president's nominee, though not before making their chilliness known. Chuck Schumer of New York -- seen as a crucial vote because of his cachet as a defender of Israeli interests -- announced his backing, in somewhat tepid form, only after a one-on-one meeting. Maryland's Ben Cardin suggested that while he was open to voting for Hagel, the former Nebraska senator wasn't his first choice. The turning point for many on the left seems to have been the harsh criticism he received from conservatives; some liberal pundits explicitly made the argument that the nature of the opposition to Hagel proved he was the right choice.
Still, that doesn't mean there's wild enthusiasm about him in the Democratic defense establishment. I spoke with some wonks to see why they weren't more excited about Hagel. Many of them preferred to speak on background, citing the close-knit circle they ran in, but they offered a picture of the reasons for reservations among progressives.
- Hagel Might Be Right on Iran, But... : Like Obama, Hagel has voiced a deep skepticism about American military adventurism overseas, including any sort of action in Iran. And of course, many on the left agree. But all that shows is that Hagel is an old-school, small-'c' conservative -- it doesn't mean that he's a liberal who shares the same goals. Hagel has also said publicly that he supports the end of "don't ask, don't tell," which he once voted for, and apologized for anti-gay comments he made years ago, but even those who take his reversals at face value worry he doesn't share their values on other cultural and strategic issues. Hagel -- along with just-confirmed Secretary of State John Kerry -- is expected to be more cautious and reluctant about American force than the outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton or Robert Gates and Leon Panetta, the first two Obama defense secretaries.