With a vague, ideologically driven rationale for opposing Chuck Hagel, President Barack Obama’s nominee to be secretary of defense, Sen. Susan Collins is proving once again that she does not have the courage and independence of outstanding Maine Republican senators who preceded her.
It is impossible to predict how Margaret Chase Smith, William S. Cohen and Olympia Snowe would have voted on Hagel, a former Republican senator, decorated Vietnam War veteran and successful businessman from Nebraska.
But it is a fair guess that all three moderate and common-sense political leaders would have accepted the customary dictum that a president is entitled to his cabinet members — unless they’ve been convicted of corruption or wife-beating — and voted to approve Hagel’s nomination.
While following the GOP crowd, Collins has missed a golden opportunity to fill the shoes of independent Maine senators such as Chase — who had the guts to take on the Republican establishment in the 1950s and tackle the vicious personage of Sen. Joseph McCarthy in his bizarre and truly anti-American, anti-Communist crusade.
She had a perfect opportunity to live up to the independent attitude which led Senator Cohen, as a first-term member of Congress, to support the investigation and eventual impeachment of Richard M. Nixon. Cohen later became secretary of defense in the Clinton administration.
Instead of mimicking the likes of Sen. Lindsay Graham and the new tea party stalwart Sen. Ted Cruz, who should sit on the back bench until he learns something about the world, Collins has failed to seize the chance to lead the Republican Party out of the woods and return it to the principles of Republican leaders from Abraham Lincoln to Theodore Roosevelt and these former Maine senators.
And why? Collins noted Hagel’s positions on the surge in Iraq, and his criticism of Israel’s intrusion into and out-sized influence on American foreign policy.
Many people opposed the surge, and even if it proved to be somewhat effective, it did not alter the fact that the Bush-Cheney war in Iraq was a trillion-dollar strategic disaster for the United States. And Israel does exert an unreasonable and irrational influence on American policy through its heavyweight lobby. Did Collins like Benjamin Netanyahu’s hurling himself into the recent presidential campaign to help Mitt Romney?
With the exception of a one-time remark about gays, for which he quickly apologized, Hagel has said nothing more that warrants the stonewall of opposition from Republican senators.
Benghazi? That seems to be the one issue of substance that Republicans like John McCain and Graham and Collins still cling to in opposing Obama on virtually every tough issue — even to leave the defense department without a new leader when this country is engaged in a war in Afghanistan and faces many serious challenges, such as Iran and North Korea and terrorist threats.
The Benghazi incident was a tragedy. Yes, four Americans, including the ambassador, were killed. And few dispute that the U.S. government, represented by the White House, the Department of State and the Pentagon, and the Central Intelligence Agency, were slow to respond. But there were complex factors in that failure — and they include the constant readiness of people like McCain and Graham to nickel and dime the Department of State in its budgetary needs, including for sufficient security personnel.
Furthermore, it’s a dangerous world out there, especially in the Middle East these days. And, in the larger scheme of things, the Obama administration got the broader strategic decisions on Libya correct — providing air support to European troops who prevented a massacre and helped Libyan rebels overthrow Qaddafi. McCain and Graham called for U.S. troops on the ground. They were dead wrong.
Unfortunately, Collins has put herself in the same league as a caustic clique of chicken-hawks in the GOP — specifically several of the “let’s go to war, as long as it’s not me” brigade who now want to bomb Iran: Dan Senor, Elliott Abrams and John Bolton. All three have led the ideological charge against Hagel, mainly arguing he’s “soft” on Iran. All three led the march to go to war in Iraq; they now shout for war against Iran. And all three, except for Bolton’s stay-at-home service in the National Guard, never served a day of their life in military service.
Sen. Collins: Please find some better company, and help get the Republican party out of its dead-end and blindly partisan path.
Fred Hill, of Arrowsic, was a foreign correspondent for The Baltimore Sun in Europe and Africa and worked on national security issues for the Department of State. He also was foreign affairs director for a moderate Republican senator from Maryland, the late Charles McC. Mathias Jr. in 1985 and 1986.