That’s what is happening with Barack Obama’s new cabinet picks: Sen. John Kerry for secretary of State and former Sen. Chuck Hagel as Defense secretary. In today’s New York Times (1/9/12), Elisabeth Bumiller has a piece headlined, “For Two Nominees, Vietnam Bred Doubts on War,” where she claims:
Between them, Senator John Kerry and Chuck Hagel have five Purple Hearts for wounds suffered in Vietnam, shared a harrowing combat experience in the Mekong Delta and responded in different ways to the conflict that tore their generation apart.
But in nominating one as secretary of State and the other as Defense secretary, President Obama hopes to bring to his administration two veterans with the same sensibility about the futilities of war.
Bumiller goes on to report that Hagel and Kerry supporters say their Vietnam experiences means they “question the price of American involvement overseas.” That would make a certain kind of sense. But their actual records do very little to support this claim.
After quoting Hagel’s criticism of the ongoing Afghan War, Bumiller writes:
Like Mr. Kerry, Mr. Hagel voted for the resolution authorizing the invasion of Iraq but became an early opponent of the Bush administration’s execution of the war.
So both of them voted to authorize the Iraq War, and supported the invasion of Afghanistan. Kerry supported the Panama invasion and NATO’s war in Serbia. And during his presidential campaign in 2004 he talked about possibly increasing the number of troops in Iraq.
Hagel’s record, as I noted already, has been more supportive of U.S. warmaking than not. If anything, their records suggest they are willing to criticize U.S. wars after they’ve voted to support them. This might be in line with the White House’s thinking, but it shouldn’t be confused with an overall skepticism towards U.S. wars and their “futilities.”
Elsewhere in the paper, David Sanger argues that Kerry and Hagel would be part of a “new national security team deeply suspicious of the wisdom of American military interventions around the world.” They “bear the scars of a war that ended when the president was a teenager,” and–along with Obama’s CIA pick John Brennan–“have sounded dismissive of attempts to send thousands of troops to rewire foreign nations as wasteful and ill-conceived.”
True–except when they haven’t.