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President Barack Obama picks former Sen. Chuck Hagel for defense secretary and John Brennan as CIA director. Diane and her guests discuss battles ahead as the president seeks to build his second-term team.
- Tom Bowman NPR Pentagon correspondent
- Rachel Smolkin White House editor, Politico
- Siobhan Gorman Intelligence and Homeland Security Correspondent, Wall Street Journal
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Yesterday, President Obama nominated former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel as defense secretary and counterterrorism advisor John Brennan to lead the CIA. Here to talk about the battles ahead as the president seeks to build his second-term team: Rachel Smolkin of Politico, Tom Bowman of NPR and Siobhan Gorman with The Wall Street Journal.
MS. DIANE REHMI invite you to be part of the program. Give us your thoughts, your ideas. Call us on 800-433-8850. Send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning, everyone.
MS. RACHEL SMOLKINGood morning.
MR. TOM BOWMANGood morning.
REHMSiobhan Gorman, what do these nominations tell us so far about the president's intentions?
MS. SIOBHAN GORMANWell, I think that it suggests a certain amount of continuity, really. I mean, at this point, you're seeing a president coming into a second term who really has a sense of what it is that he wants to do. He wants to draw down in Afghanistan. He wants to figure out exactly how to institute this sort of light footprint approach to national security policy around the world in non-war zones.
MS. SIOBHAN GORMANAnd what you see in Hagel is someone who's very simpatico with his view of the need for, you know, how to draw down in Afghanistan and judicious use of the war-fighting tools as well as also, you know, seeing a need to pair certain things back at the Pentagon. And in Brennan, you see someone who has been a leading architect of this sort of light footprint strategy. And so I think that, especially with these two men combined with senator and Secretary-designate Kerry, you see a team that is likely to really push ahead on those fronts.
REHMRachel, what about why these nominations came as late as they did?
SMOLKINIt feels like President Obama is well into his second term. But actually, we all have to remember we haven't even seen the inauguration yet. So it's not quite as late as it feels like it is. The president really couldn't push ahead with these any earlier because we were right in the middle of this big fiscal cliff fight. At the end of last year, the president had to look like he was only focused on that because it was a very serious time when taxes could have gone up for almost everyone, and these major spending cuts could have taken effect.
SMOLKINAnd it would have looked liked he wasn't focused on that if he had proceeded with any of his nominees. Of course, he had -- seemed poised to put Susan Rice in place early on to put her in as secretary of state. And then, of course, that really blew up over her involvement in the Benghazi affair and her appearance on those Sunday shows. And that all got delayed and then we moved into this round of fiscal cliff fighting. So this is really the first opportunity President Obama has had to move forward on some of these.
REHMAnd, Tom Bowman, the issue of whether the president has a right to nominate and to have the nominees he wants certainly came into question when he talked about nominating Ambassador Rice as secretary of state. And already, the talk has begun as far as Chuck Hagel for the Department of Defense. Will he be able to wonder through this nomination process?
BOWMANWe will see. I mean, it's really unusual to see this much opposition to a nominee this early on. There's talk about TV ads against Chuck Hagel, and a lot of this centers on his support or lack of support of Israel, his opposed soft stance on Iran. He favors negotiations over talk of war. And also part of this is his talk of cutting back in the defense budget, which rankles some Republicans as well. He has called the defense budget bloated. Clearly, more cuts are coming either way.
BOWMANI mean, with the fiscal situation that we have, you will certainly see more cuts in the Pentagon budget. And part of that is, I think, his style. He campaigned for President Obama back in 2008 instead of his Republican colleague John McCain. Clearly, that rankles McCain as well. And also looking back on policy issues with -- particularly with regard to Iraq back in 2007 over questions of the surge, he was strongly against the surge of American forces into Iraq in 2007.
BOWMANMcCain was really the leader in the Senate on pushing for the surge. And I reported from Iraq at the time, there's no question that the surge to help turn things around in Iraq brought down the violence in Iraq. And McCain, I believe, will hit him very hard on that point during the hearings.
REHMAnd what about Brennan? What's he likely to run into, Siobhan?
GORMANWell, it's interesting because Brennan is someone who has straddled two administrations. He held top intelligence positions in the Bush administration and then joined the Obama campaign after leaving the CIA. So he is going to have to defend some of his positions against some skeptical folks, both on the Democratic and Republican side, each who sees Brennan as representing sort of the other side.
GORMANAnd so he's going to have to show, for example, that his position on enhanced interrogation has indeed been consistent because there's a fair amount of skepticism on that among both Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill.
REHMAt the same time, some Republicans were very much in favor of using those very same techniques.
GORMANExactly, which is why it was interesting yesterday to see a certain amount of Republican pushback to Brennan on that issue, and it's because they see him as having been inconsistent. They think that when he was in the Bush administration, he was supportive of enhanced interrogation. But then he turned -- when he went to the Obama administration, he said, oh, I always oppose enhanced interrogation. And so they feel that he has been inconsistent. And so he's going to have to show a consistent position in these confirmation hearings.
SMOLKINI think that's absolutely true. And the other thing is the drone issue could also come up, his involvement with that, a program that tends to bother the left more than it bothers the right. But it is an area of contention. And the third area of possible contention in his nomination is his potential involvement with some of the national security leaks.
SMOLKINYou will recall that last summer during the re-election campaign, Republicans, in particular Sen. John McCain, were basically accusing the Obama administration of leaking classified information to look -- make the president look stronger on national security, look like a stronger leader on foreign policy and terror.
SMOLKINThere are ongoing investigations into some of those leaks of stories that came up around the time. President Obama very angrily pushed back against that idea in a news conference. But because of Brennan's position, it's possible that could all come up again. We were hearing some rumblings yesterday that he's going to get some tough questions on that issue.
BOWMANAnd along the lines of the drone policy, you know, it's interesting that, you know, Brennan, of course, has been one of the architects of this drone policy. We've seen it increase in Pakistan under President Obama, much more so than under President Bush. We've seen it expanded into Yemen and Somalia and with other potential hotspots in Africa, let's say Mali, for example. You could see the drone policy expand even more as the U.S. and its allies go after al-Qaida affiliates throughout Africa.
BOWMANAnd people I talked with the Pentagon say, you know, listen, we really haven't had a good discussion on this drone policy. Where is this going? It's a double-edged sword. Not only do you kill the supposed bad guys, but you're also killing a number of civilians. And I had one guy at the Pentagon tell me, you know, listen, what will we say if China, for example, started using its drones against dissidents, let's say, outside of China?
BOWMANWhat if Russia started to use it in Chechnya? What would we say to them, that this is a wrong thing to do? So again, people at the Pentagon are even saying, wait a minute. We really haven't had a discussion as a nation what we want to do with this tool that everybody likes to use but could be a runaway kind of policy.
GORMANWell, an interesting decision that Brennan is going to have to make is how much more he will say publicly about the drone program because he has actually been somebody who the administration has put out publicly to try to explain why they see their use of drones as legal. But, for example, he has never stated even that there is a CIA drone program because that remains covert.
GORMANBut we understand from our reporting over the past couple of years that Brennan has been a key figure within the administration because there has been a lot of competing arguments, especially between, say, State and CIA or the Pentagon and CIA about how aggressively to use the drone program, whether you need to have specific individuals you're going after or whether you can go after groups where you generally believe that they're bad guys.
GORMANAnd Brennan has been more recently an advocate of actually throttling that back a little bit, making sure that you really know who it is that you're going after even if it's a group that you have a better sense of who those people are. So he's played kind of an interesting mediating role in that he hasn't necessarily been full speed ahead, and it'll be interesting whether or not, when he goes to CIA, he also seeks to sort of moderate the CIA position a little bit, which has been very aggressive.
SMOLKINWe also may see that nomination get caught up in other controversies that Brennan really doesn't have that much to do with directly. We saw Sen. Lindsey Graham saying yesterday the nomination really should not go forward until the administration provides more answers over Benghazi and what happened there.
SMOLKINAnd he said this is not personal against John Brennan, but it seems to be the only way we can get answers from the administration. Now, I think everyone at this point expects Brennan to be confirmed. He's certainly well-qualified for the position. But there are all these surrounding things, not just drones and interrogation techniques and leaks but this whole Benghazi issue that Republicans are really looking for a way to continue to press.
REHMHow much of an inquiry into Benghazi is the nominee for the secretary of state, John Kerry, likely to get, Siobhan?
GORMANWell, I would think that he would get questions in terms of the implications of Benghazi or the lessons learned from Benghazi. What we saw with the last round of hearings on Benghazi was State Department officials saying, we will implement all of the recommendations that the accountability board made, and more saying, you know, we're -- we agree with all of the changes that need to be made. And they did remove some people from their positions. So Kerry will have to explain at least how he's going to implement that.
REHMSiobhan Gorman of The Wall Street Journal. Short break. We'll be right back.
REHMAnd welcome back. We are talking about President Obama's choices for his national security team in the next administration. Here with me in the studio: Tom Bowman, he's NPR's Pentagon correspondent, Siobhan Gorman is Intelligence and Homeland Security correspondent at The Wall Street Journal, Rachel Smolkin is White House editor for Politico. We do invite your calls, comments, questions, 800-433-8850. During the break, Tom Bowman, you were saying that Chuck Hagel is also likely to face questions during his confirmation hearings on what happened in Benghazi.
BOWMANThat's right, Diane. You know, one of the issues was where was the military? You know, where was their quick reaction force when they were needed at the Benghazi facility? And the fact remains, at that time, European Command and the African Command were sharing a quick reaction force, and that force was off in Croatia training. It took them some time to get ready to come, and they arrived too late.
BOWMANSo one of the issues for Chuck Hagel, and Sen. Susan Collins from Maine has mentioned this as well, where was the military and where will they be when they're needed? So I think that question will come up for him. And African Command now has their own quick reaction force. But you have to -- a quick reaction force is just that. When they're needed, they have to be there quickly. So that's an issue that will come up, I think, for Sen. Hagel.
REHMInteresting. First email from Dan in Sacramento, Calif., who describes himself as an ardent Obama supporter, but he says, "I'm puzzled as to why there was not more support for Susan Rice yet a willingness to go to the mat for Chuck Hagel." Siobhan.
GORMANI think a number of people remain a little bit confused by that. And I think that some of it may just be timing that the Susan Rice issue came up so -- in such proximity to the election. There was such a hangover from that that it seems like there was a sense within the administration and particularly for Ambassador Rice that this was just not a fight they were willing to take on particularly seeing the fiscal cliff negotiations coming up.
GORMANNow, they kind of made it past the first hurdle with the fiscal cliff. And my understanding is that the president really felt that he wanted a Republican in his administration. He understood or he felt that when Bob Gates was his secretary of defense, that was very useful because when he had to make tough decisions with regard to the Pentagon, Gates was a very good salesman to Republicans on the Hill for those decisions.
REHMAnd here's another email from Dennis, who says, "So President Obama nominates two Republicans, and Republicans are still fighting him every inch of the way. Isn't this just more of what we've had the last four years? When will this country move forward?" Rachel.
SMOLKINThere's a feeling among some Republicans that Hagel is not a "real Republican," that he's bucked them so often on their party ideology that he's a Republican in name only. So in some ways, Democrats look at the choice and say, why did Obama pick him? He's a Republican. And Republicans look at the choice and say, why did Obama pick him? He's not a real Republican.
SMOLKINSo he doesn't really have a natural constituency in the same way that Susan Rice did where that was a very exciting potential choice for the Democratic base. She's a minority and a woman and someone who's a longtime friend of the Obamas. Hagel does not come in with that same reservoir of support. But we were talking before about why stick with Hagel and not Susan Rice. Hagel's the second choice.
SMOLKINSo if President Obama did not push forward this time, that's right out of the gate in his second term, two big setbacks on a nominee, so some of it is just timing. Maybe if Hagel had gone first and not worked out and then Susan Rice was the second one, she would've been in a better place. But this is the second round. And the other thing is that Susan Rice -- the opposition to her seemed to actually be building after talk about her started. So she had this visit -- couple of visits she made to the Hill, and that seemed to only inflame the opposition and not do anything to settle it down.
BOWMANYou know, along those political lines, I've had some Democrats mention to me, you know, what does this say about the Democratic national security establishment? You had Bob Gates, who was a Republican, and now you have Leon Panetta, who used to be a Republican. And now you have Chuck Hagel, a Republican.
BOWMANWhere are the Democrats out there that can take this job? Under Bill Clinton, of course, you had Bill Cohen, another Republican. What does this say about the Democratic bench? You know, why not Jack Reed of Rhode Island? Why not Michele Flournoy? Why not some of these other people that have come in?
REHMWell, and that was a question I was going to raise with you. You've got three white men up there and a lot of people are going to look at that and say, how come? You mean to tell me there are no persons of color, females, anybody else who's qualified?
BOWMANThat's right. You know, I mean, that's why people said Michele Flournoy would've been a good pick. She was undersecretary for policy, highly respected in the United States military and respected on both sides of the aisle in Congress.
REHMSo what was the downside there?
BOWMANWell, we don't know. I mean, clearly the pick of Hagel is he brings a gravitas of having been a ground combat soldier in Vietnam. And not only that, he will be the first secretary of defense, if he's successful, who was an enlisted soldier in combat. He was awarded two Purple Stars in Vietnam, fought at the high point of the Vietnam War in 1968. You look back in history starting with James Forrestal, a lot of them served in the military as either staff officers, junior officers, rear echelon-type. Not one of them ever served in ground combat as an enlisted soldier.
REHMAnd here's an email from Dave in Arlington, "As a former enlisted Marine Corps veteran of Vietnam and also a retired Army officer, I far and away support Sen. Hagel's nomination."
BOWMANThat's a really good point too. And watch for the veterans groups how they play this as well. You have the Iraq and Afghanistan and veterans of America coming out strongly for Chuck Hagel. The VFW is sort of on the fence saying, you know, we think he should be confirmed, but we don't think it's in our place to come out and actually push for Hagel.
BOWMANOther veterans groups out there, will they push for Hagel to be the next secretary of defense? Will they actually get out there and go to Capitol Hill and say, hang on a second, he's one of us, he should be the secretary of defense? So watch for that.
GORMANWell, and he also was the number two at the Department of Veterans Affairs in the Reagan administration. So he has credentials on that side as well. And as head of USO, you know, certainly the military troop support, you would think, would be there. But this isn't traditionally the most active political group. I mean, military folks usually see themselves as relatively apolitical. So that will be an interesting dynamic.
REHMWhat about John Kerry? Is he simply likely to sail through?
GORMANAt this point, I think that that's certainly what they're hoping, and nobody's really suggested otherwise. I mean, Sen. Kerry is respected within the Senate. He's one of them, and he is not entangled in any of these other administration issues.
REHMBut then why, perhaps, he did not do it deliberately? On the other hand, maybe he did. Why would President Obama set up a direct confrontation with the Congress on Chuck Hagel and Mr. Brennan?
GORMANWell, I think that it's mainly because it wasn't the original plan. The original plan was Susan Rice at state and Kerry at defense and, you know, possibly Brennan at CIA, which actually would've, you know, that was what they were hoping for. And I think that now, they're looking at their plan B and that's going to invite some confrontation. I mean, we certainly seen that confrontation is the trajectory that we've been on in Congress. So I guess it's not that surprising at this point.
REHMAll right. We've got lots of callers. Let's open the phones, see what our listeners had to say, first to Lansing, Mich. Good morning, Joe. You're on the air.
JOEGood morning, Diane. Thanks. Great show as always.
JOEI'm wondering why some of the people, the journalists that you have even on your panel and others, don't hold some of the other people in their own field a little more accountable. I'm all for senators and hearings and vetting people for jobs. But when people like Bill Kristol and others get -- on the right start sneering people like Hagel and Brennan, when, you know, years ago, oh, hey, he was a great VP, let's have him as VP.
JOEAnd all of a sudden because he's Obama's pick, all of a sudden, no, let's just go ahead and, like you said, have TV ads and everything else under the sun about him. I wish more journalists would hold themselves and others accountable.
REHMYou know, it's a great point in that you wonder whether we're talking about personalities or policies. What are we talking about here?
SMOLKINIt's Washington that we're talking about, everything rolled into one, with, of course, politics being at the leading edge of all that. But it's important to note that the White House knew this fight was coming and is very prepared for it. There are talking points circulating in Washington, talking about his service in Vietnam, his Purple Hearts that he won. The White House is prepared to push back on the Republican arguments about his support changing in the Iraq War.
SMOLKINThe White House spokesman, Tommy Vietor, said the night before the nomination came, if at the end of the day these guys -- meaning the Republicans -- are frustrated that he had the courage to buck his party on the Iraq War, that's going to be a tough case to make to the American people. So the White House feels they are going to win this fight. They're ready.
SMOLKINAnd the interesting thing about yesterday when the nomination came out is the opposition after all this buildup was actually somewhat muted. AIPAC, for example, the very influential pro-Israel group, did not put out a statement opposing Hagel yesterday. You would think they were going to launch an intense campaign against him. That would have happened at the outset. There was certainly plenty of lead-up time before this nomination.
BOWMANAnd Joe talks about holding journalists accountable. I mean, Bill Kristol really isn't a journalist. He's a political operative, you know, at The Weekly Standard magazine. He's behind some of these TV ads who have come out against Hagel. He worked for Dan Quayle, the former vice president. So he's really not a journalist.
BOWMANAnd one of the problems we see today is anybody who can call himself or herself a journalist, you can be a former Democrat or Republican operative, and you just hang up your shingle and say, well, now I'm a journalist on TV or a commentator. He is not a journalist. He's an operative, and that's important to mention.
GORMANOne other interesting point in the reporting on this has also been that, you know, this one-month lag time where Hagel's name had been floated, but yet he wasn't actually nominated and it wasn't clear that a final decision had been made, that, I mean, part of that lag, as we discussed, was because they had all these fiscal cliff negotiations. But what it did do was give oxygen to the opposition because the administration wasn't that focused on defending someone they hadn't actually nominated.
GORMANFolks on Capitol Hill were not interested in expending political capital on someone who wasn't actually nominated yet. And so the pro-Hagel forces were very, very quiet and not very aggressive during that one-month period where you already saw things like these preemptive TV ads. And what will be interesting is whether or not once the opposition actually has an opponent in the administration, how strong they will be 'cause they had a pretty free hand for about a month to really push ahead.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." To Cincinnati, Ohio. Hi there, Ben.
BENHi, Diane. Thanks for taking my call.
BENMy comment and my question to your panel is why is it that ever since Obama came to power, any Republican that he picks, for instance, Chuck Hagel -- why would -- why a U.S. senator say that, yes, he's elected by U.S. senator but not a Jewish senator is seen as anti-Semitic? Why is that? Why is Republican look at people who (unintelligible) dealing with wars -- Republicans see that person as unpatriotic?
BOWMANWell, I mean, he referred once to the Jewish lobby. Some people took that the wrong way. He backed away from that, saying he met the Israeli lobby. He has been critical of Israel, saying, listen, I'm a United States senator. I'm not a senator from Israel. And he has been critical of Israeli policy over the years. He said at one point that they have chained the Palestinians.
BOWMANSo he's not one to mince words. He's a rough-and-tumble kind of guy on a lot of issues, and he's pushed back on Israeli policy here and there, and that clearly rubs people the wrong way, like the Bill Kristols and Paul Wolfowitzes and Dan Senors, those who are kind of leading the charge now against Chuck Hagel.
REHMAre they in a position to make that charge stick?
BOWMANWell, we'll have to see. We'll wait for the hearings. Chuck Hagel has said that his record has been distorted, that he's a strong supporter of Israel. He said that in his writings and his speeches and in his votes, he says. But, you know, you have senators like the Democrat Ben Cardin of Maryland, a Jewish senator, and also Chuck Schumer of New York who are withholding comment, and they're going to say, we're going to look at his record.
BOWMANWe'll see how he votes. We have a lot of questions for Chuck Hagel, and maybe Rachel can better answer that. The political side of this, there's not a lot of people coming out right away for Chuck Hagel, the Democratic side saying.
BOWMANSo I think they're all holding back until the hearings.
SMOLKINIt's interesting to note that the concerns about Sen. Hagel's stance on Israel have been very bipartisan. In fact, one of the strongest comments about his record on Israel came over the weekend from Sen. Lindsey Graham, who said he would be the most antagonistic secretary of defense toward Israel in the nation's history. It's hard to get stronger than that.
SMOLKINBut, you know, we were just talking about Cardin also expressing concern. So that has been bipartisan. Hagel did something very unusual and has given an interview to the Lincoln Journal Star. Usually the nominees sit quietly until it's their time to face the Senate, but he did not take that route, another example of Hagel going his own way.
SMOLKINAnd he pushed back very hard, saying that an assessment of his record will show that he has unequivocal total support for Israel, so pushing back against that already. And it'll be very interesting to see how he handles that when he does go before the Senate because he's going to want to push back and be very strong, and at the same time, he's going to have to avoid ruffling feathers on that issue.
REHMHasn't he also been accused of making some anti-gay comments, Siobhan?
GORMANYes, yes. When we were looking at the nomination of Ambassador Hormel, I guess it was, he did make some anti-gay comments at that point, but has since apologized. And so I think that what he will emphasize over and over on that front is that he apologized, and, you know, as on a lot of these issues, his views...
REHMGays in the military?
GORMANGays in the -- well, there will be a law -- I mean, you know, whether gay -- issue of gay marriage, you know, health benefits, death benefits. All those kinds of things come into play. So he is going to face a lot of questions on that, but I have a feeling that he will probably, you know, mainly talk about how his views have evolved, and obviously he will implement the law. So...
BOWMANAnd, you know, clearly there's been some hyperbole along these lines, too, particularly with regard to his positions on Israel. As Rachel was saying, Lindsey Graham said he'd be the most antagonistic secretary of defense toward Israel in our history. Apparently, he's forgetting Secretary of Defense and State George Marshall, who opposed recognition of Israel and told Truman he would vote against him if he recognized Israel.
REHMTom Bowman, he's NPR's Pentagon correspondent. When we come back, more of your calls, your email. I look forward to hearing from you.
REHMAnd we're talking in this hour about President Obama's latest nomination, certainly Chuck Hagel at defense and Brennan at -- John Brennan to lead the CIA. Let's go now to Baltimore, Md. Good morning, Jay.
JAYHey, good morning, Diane. Thank you very much for having me.
JAYListen, I just -- kudos to President Obama for having the guts to nominate Chuck Hagel. One of the -- my big beefs with -- I know the media's always catching it. I like the media. I love you, guys. But with the media, but also a lot of the people and the punsters and all -- I mean, the pundits, excuse me, is that there's very little conversation on the cause and consequences to the United States of attacking Iraq.
JAYAnd to my knowledge, Chuck Hagel is open of the few people who has mentioned, you know, we have to be careful. This could involve 100,000 troops on the ground and, of course, by implication, potentially hundreds of billions of dollars. And for that, he's getting, you know, flayed as anti-Israel or something like that. And I -- anyway, I'm very, very heartened by this, and I certainly hope he gets the nomination and becomes our secretary of defense.
REHMThanks for calling. Tom Bowman.
BOWMANYou know, you raise a good point. His service in Vietnam told him and taught him about the consequences of war, and he always remembers that now. That's why he was wary of Afghanistan, wary of the Iraq War. And he has talked about the fact that once you head into war, you never know how it's going to spiral out of control. So he's much more aware that -- and cautious of that.
BOWMANBut I think there a lot of politicians and policymakers who are much more eager and willing to talk about war. He knows firsthand what it's like. He saved his brother's life, and his brother, in turn, saved his life in 1968 in Vietnam. So he'll bring a perspective to the job that really very few people have.
GORMANWell, and I think that one of the things that the administration is planning to do and hoping will be more successful in responding to opponents is really emphasizing that personal story. That's clearly part of the strategy here. I mean, you heard President Obama yesterday even saying, you know, he -- this guy has shrapnel in his chest, and I think that we will hear a lot more about that. And I think that that, again, is the kind of credibility that Obama hopes Hagel will bring to a lot of these really tough discussions about how to draw down in Afghanistan, how pair back the Pentagon and things like that.
REHMTo Brookport, Ill. Mark, you're on the air.
MARKThanks, Diane. How are you today?
MARKThank you for having me. I just wanted to make a comment/question about the politics of this. And it seems to me, in observing Obama, who -- that he has like an uncanny instinct for being able to find ways to divide the Republicans even more. You know, he takes the existing division, and he's putting wedges in them and forcing prominent Republicans to contradict each other publicly, which splits the party even more.
MARKAnd do you think that he's looking forward to possibly trying to -- it seems to me like he's got a long-term strategy that he is looking to get, possibly, majority in the House and 60 senator's back in the Senate.
REHMAll right. Thanks for calling.
SMOLKINThat's an excellent point, and we're seeing a very feisty President Obama here, ready to fight Republicans on a number of fronts. We saw it during the last round of the fiscal cliff fight where he did not back down. He felt like he had the electorate behind him, coming off a stronger-than-expected re-election victory. We see it with the Hagel fight.
SMOLKINHe's getting ready to fight on immigration and guns. We have fiscal cliff round two coming up with the sequester fight and the debt ceiling, which he has said he will not negotiate around. So we're seeing multiple fronts here where President Obama is ready to take on the Republican Congress.
BOWMANAnd also, you look at the Chuck Hagel, too. He's almost a poster child for the old Republican Party: a Chamber of Commerce Republican, a millionaire businessman from the Midwest, a war hero. So it's kind of, you know, interesting that the Republicans don't accept him as one of their own.
REHMRachel, one point that I've heard a number of people speak out saying that the president did cave on taxes, that having campaigned on $250,000 and then going up to 400 and 450 seemed to them like backtracking. I think it's on the eyes of the beholders. Let's go to Carrboro, N.C. Good morning, Laura.
LAURAGood morning. Thanks for taking my call.
LAURAI'm calling because earlier you were talking about the use of enhanced interrogation, and I'm very concerned about using that term for what is torture. We really need to be honest about our foreign policy if we want to have any kind of respect from other governments around the world. And we can't be going around using euphemism. So I'd really like to see that use of the term avoided on your show and, you know, correct your guests and make them use the words that are accurate.
REHMThanks for calling. Siobhan.
GORMANWell, the main reason why we end up using terms like that is because torture becomes very charged, and as a journalist, you try to stay away from taking sides. And by using the word torture, you are taking sides. So it's...
REHMHow are you taking sides?
GORMANWell, because there were legal opinions written during the Bush administration that said enhanced interrogation was specifically not torture. And so not being a lawyer, we, you know, I can't be in a position of rendering that judgment. It is obviously still a matter of intense debate but...
BOWMANIs there a defined torture -- is there a definition of torture? Is something accepted by the civilized world that would say this is torture, this is not torture?
REHMAnd that's when that whole discussion of waterboarding came up.
GORMANExactly. And so what we saw during the, you know, the Bush administration and the first part of the Obama administration was extensive discussion about whether or not waterboarding itself was torture. President Obama has emphatically said it is, but there are a lot Republicans who say that it was not, particularly in the way that they were employing it in the CIA interrogation.
SMOLKINIt's important for listeners to know, though, that this is something that journalists really do struggle with, that there are discussions and debates inside newsrooms about what the best word to use is so that we are not taking sides either one way or another. Enhanced interrogation techniques can be seen by some as being a somewhat complimentary word.
SMOLKINAnd enhanced sometimes implies better. Some might see it that way. We often say tough interrogation tactics or harsh interrogation tactics. So we really do struggle to try to find a word that captures what happens that does not come down on side or another.
REHMI appreciate that discussion. Thank you. Let's go to San Diego, Ca. Mary, you're on the air.
MARYYes. I was raised for -- I am Mexican-American and raised part of my childhood in Mexico. And I have noticed since I have become an adult woman that if you criticize Israel in any way that you can be considered an anti-Semitic. But I can say and anyone else can say that Mexico does many things that are not right for these people, and that's why we have an immigration problem.
MARYAnd I do not feel that people are prejudiced against Mexico when they complain about the Mexican government. And I cannot understand why anti-Semitism is a -- you are considered to be an anti-Semitic when you say bad things about Israel. If a country is not following specific guidelines, why is it that you cannot criticize that country? And why do the United States tolerate this? Why...
GORMANThat's a very interesting point. I'm not sure that there's a lot that I have to add to that, but I think that it certainly raises a lot of important questions about what amounts to fair and unfair criticism of a government as opposed to its people.
BOWMANNo. I think that's right. You know, is -- if you're critical of Israel, if you raise questions about Israel, does that automatically mean you're an anti-Semite? I guess it depends who you ask on that question.
REHMAll right. And to Fort Lauderdale. Shawn, you're on the air.
SHAWNHi, Diane. Thank you for taking my call. I'm a big fan of your show.
SHAWNI want to make a quick statement and ask my question. One, I think, again, Israel is the strongest ally of the U.S. in the Middle East. However, into the caller's -- to the previous caller's point, for a man like Chuck Hagel, with his experience, his, you know, he shed blood for this country, his patriotism to be questioned because he, you know, he's questioning some actions of the Israeli government to him even be, you know, called an anti-Semite, I think it's kind of pushing it far.
SHAWNAnd I think, you know, the, you know, Israeli lobby, at times, need to be put in check whether it's our American politicians doing their bidding or other folks. But the question is the following: Should he not be, as a senator -- as a former senator, question sometimes our ally's policies especially when they're coming to ask us to put our troops on the line when you talk about Iran?
GORMANI had an interesting conversation, Sunday, with a former Hagel staffer who was emphatically defending Hagel's record on Israel and said, you know, Hagel very strongly believes in the special relationship between the U.S. and Israel. But his understanding of that relationship also is one where you can have what he called frank conversations with your allies.
GORMANAnd so I think that what we will see from Hagel and his team is sort of a more aggressive tact and hopefully, a more detailed explanation of the way that Hagel was raising his concerns with the Israeli government because it seems like Hagel was looking at it through the prism of, look, we're on the same team here, but as a friend, I got to tell you that I disagree with you on X, Y and Z issues.
REHMAnd, sorry, Rachel.
SMOLKINThe question about support for Israel is such a difficult one because there are many, many people who see the survival and well-being of Israel as equivalent to the survival and well-being of the Jewish people. That is why the issue becomes so deeply complicated and fraught. It's also important to know that for all the pushback against Chuck Hagel for his past comments on Israel and the so-called Jewish lobby, there have also been some voices defending him, and that's happening increasingly.
SMOLKINLes Gelb, the president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, said that he expects Israel advocates who oppose Hagel will lose "hands down." And he said he thinks Hagel will storm through the approval process, and the Israeli lobbyists will be very sorry for having shown their weakness, raising the question of, do they want to fight this battle. There are many other battles to fight. Is this the one they're going to want to go to the mat on?
REHMDo you think they will go to the mat on this, Tom?
BOWMANWell, I mean, clearly, there are some elements. We talked about Bill Crystal and Dan Senor and, you know, Elliott Abrams, some of those -- Paul Wolfowitz, some of the neocons out there, clearly want to go to the mat on this.
BOWMANThe question is for the United States senators. Will they listen to those folks or they going to listen to, let's say, Bob Gates, who came out -- former Defense Secretary Bob Gates, who came out in favor of Hagel, or Brent Scowcroft, George H.W. Bush's national security advisor, Jim Jones, former national security advisor, all strongly in favor of Chuck Hagel. Who will they listen to when it's time to vote, that's the question.
REHMAll right. And to David in Miami, Fla. Hi there. You are on the air.
DAVIDThank you so much. I get so nervous when I'm doing this. I'd like to speak to something a little bit back, to the nomination of the defense secretary. I'm a Vietnam veteran, and I don't believe to getting shot qualifies you for anything. But what I do believe is that it positions you in this life we have to make those kind of decisions very, very cautiously, much unlike we've had over the last 25 or 30 years.
DAVIDWhen it's time to go to war, lots of people are going to die, both sides. And I just think it's -- what I think is terrible is the way the decisions are made, not the decisions are made to go or not. I'd go again if I had to.
REHMThank you for your service, and thank you for calling. And you're listening to the "Diane Rehm Show." I think David makes an extraordinarily good point about the decision to go to war and what it really means not only for the country as a whole, but for the individuals who do go to war and what happens to them.
BOWMANAbsolutely. And the president talked about this yesterday. When he's introducing Chuck Hagel, he said for Chuck Hagel war is not an abstraction. He's actually been there. He's been in a mud. He's fought. He's seen his brother grievously wounded. He's been wounded himself. So people who have been through this -- and I've spent a lot of time in Iraq and Afghanistan with soldiers and Marines. They're very serious about this business.
BOWMANA lot of people think lightly about soldiers and Marines, that they love war. They love to kill people. I'm talking of one thing, you know. And Eisenhower said, they should look back over history. You look at Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., the Supreme Court justice. There's a certain maturity and wisdom that comes through these people who had been through these horrific conditions. They don't lightly vote to send others into war.
BOWMANAnd I'll tell you, if you look at someone like a Dick Cheney or a Paul Wolfowitz, those people dogfight back in the Bush Administration. They were very eager to send U.S. troops into battle. Not one of them served in uniform. I think that's important for people to know. And clearly, people like David know that as well.
REHMTo Cincinnati, Ohio. Hi there, Ed.
EDGood morning and thanks for taking my call.
EDI have one question and then a comment if you have time. The question is, can someone explain to me the difference between a Jewish lobby and an Israeli lobby? That's the question. And if you have time, I have a comment about Susan Rice.
REHMLet's hear if anyone can explain the difference as it came to people who heard it.
SMOLKINI think that's a tough one. And in terms of the politics in Washington, I think there is no separation. You can say there's a separation in reality, that the interest of Israel and the Israeli lobby are not always CNNs for the Jewish people. You can certainly make that argument, but that is a more nuanced argument than the way the politics of Washington play.
REHMAnd one last, quick question from Caroline in Glen Burnie, Md. "Do you think Ambassador Rice might be named national security advisor?
GORMANThat's quite likely, although the current national security advisor, Tom Donilon, I think, is expected to stick around for at least, maybe a year or so. So that change probably wouldn't be seen for a little bit. But for now, she is still the U.N. ambassador and, you know, that's a perfectly good job too.
REHMWould the national security advisor require a confirmation?
REHMSo that would be a choice the president could make on his own?
GORMANCertainly. And, in fact, that's similar to the decision he made to put John Brennan in the deputy national security advisor position in the first around.
REHMAll right. I want to thank you all. Siobhan Gorman of the Wall Street Journal, Tom Bowman of NPR, Rachel Smolkin of Politico, great discussion. Thank you.
REHMAnd thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Denise Couture, Susan Nabors, Rebecca Kaufman, Lisa Dunn and Jill Colgan. The engineer is Erin Stamper. Natalie Yuravlivker answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives, transcripts, podcasts and CD sales. Call 202-885-1200 for more information. Our email address is email@example.com, and we're on Facebook and Twitter. This program comes to you from American University in Washington, D.C. This is NPR.
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