Not since the eminently forgettable and now justly forgotten Louis A. Johnson was chosen to dismantle the country's military budget after the Second World War -- just in time to leave this country woefully unprepared for the Korean one -- has a nominee for secretary of defense represented so clear and present a danger to the national security.
This time his name is Chuck Hagel, a former senator of shifting convictions about the country's defense, much of whose political career has been devoted to undermining that defense -- when he wasn't using high office to peddle low prejudices. Like the dangers of "ostentatious" homosexuals in the Foreign Service, or a Jewish conspiracy dominating American politics. Such is the man this president has chosen to protect the nation's security, God help us all.
Thanks to those far-sighted statesmen who gave us the Constitution of the United States -- "the most wonderful work ever struck off at a given time by the brain and purpose of man," to quote Gladstone -- the American system is replete with protections for the political minority, which needs all the protection it can get. There are numberless such safeguards, from the Bill of Rights in the Constitution itself to unlimited debate in the Senate of the United States, also known as the filibuster.
No doubt many of those protections have been abused to thwart the will of the majority. But there comes a time when the will of the majority very much needs thwarting. As when a heedless majority is about to make not just a bad but a dangerous decision by a party-line vote. A time like now.
For a handy summation of the many good reasons to block the nomination of Charles Hagel as the country's next secretary of defense, nothing can beat the transcript of his confirmation hearings, which amounted to one embarrassing debacle after another for the nominee. There were so many it is impossible to detail them all in a single column.
To cite one: This is a senator who supported going to war in Iraq, complete with beating drums and blaring bugles. But when the outlook turned bleak there, and our troops needed all the support they could get on the home front, Senator Hagel sounded retreat -- indeed, surrender.
At that decisive point, Senator Hagel not only opposed but denounced the Surge that would save the day, not to mention a war, a country and the prospects for freedom in the most turbulent and dangerous part of the globe. The moral of this story: On him you shouldn't count. Especially as secretary of defense.