Since President Obama nominated him to become the nation's 24th secretary of defense, Republicans, particularly those on the Senate Armed Services Committee, have impugned Senator Chuck Hagel's policy positions, his character, and even his patriotism. Last week, Senate Republicans filibustered his nomination, thus delaying his confirmation at least another 10 days.
Senator James Inhofe, the committee's ranking member, claimed that Hagel's policy work is out of the mainstream and that he subscribes to a worldview predicated on appeasing our adversaries and shunning our friends. To prove this claim, Inhofe noted that Hagel's nomination has been endorsed by the Iranian Foreign Ministry, arguing that "you cannot get any cozier than that."
The newly-minted senator from Texas, Ted Cruz, argued that Hagel's confirmation will make military conflict in the next four years substantially more likely by encouraging Iran to speed up its nuclear program. Cruz also accused Hagel of getting cozy with terrorists and countries that oppose U.S. interests, even demanding to know if any of his income over the last five years could have come "directly from North Korea."
Finally, in their questioning during his confirmation hearing, Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, haranguing and interrupting, treated Senator Hagel as if he were on trial, rather than a distinguished public servant and war hero once again answering his nation's call to serve. To his credit, McCain did chastise his Republican colleagues for impugning Hagel's character and his integrity in the committee meeting to vote on his nomination. But that didn't make up for the way he treated Hagel during the hearings.
While Hagel had to play defense during the hearing, that will change when he gets to the Pentagon. Based upon his past experience in business, the non-profit world, and the Senate, he will be a take-charge leader, and one of his challenges will be reducing defense spending. And his choices could hurt the constituents of the very officials who have done the most to hurt him.
Neither Hagel, nor any secretary of defense, can close military bases unilaterally, but he can have a large impact on which bases are part of the list that is sent to the Base Realignment and Closure Commission. In 1995, then-Secretary of Defense William Perry resisted pressure from some in the Air Force to place two major logistics bases in Texas and California on the list. When the commission overruled Perry and put them back on the list for closure, Perry mitigated the economic impact on the states by privatizing the bases. Similarly, even before unveiling his list in 2005, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld made it known that Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota would be on the closure list. Although the commission refused to support this, the commotion surrounding the decision undermined Minority Leader Senator Tom Daschle's 2004 reelection bid, which he lost.
Secretaries can also exert significant economic influence on states and districts by transferring units from one base to another or by disestablishing units altogether. Secretary Gates moved the homeport of a carrier from Norfolk, Virginia to Jacksonville, Florida and decided where in the country units being withdrawn from Japan or Germany would be relocated. Secretary Panetta tried to disband several Air National Guard units.