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Washington — Hagel, who fought alongside his own brother and suffered shrapnel wounds in Vietnam and burns to his face, has made no secret of his reservations about what the military can accomplish in Afghanistan.
“We can’t impose our will. The Russians found that out in Afghanistan. We’ve been involved in two very costly wars that have taught us a lesson once again,” Hagel told PBS’s “Tavis Smiley” show last year.
Unsurprisingly, he also is extremely cautious about what could be done in Syria. “I don’t think America wants to be in the lead on this,” he told Foreign Policy magazine in May.
‘THE GUY AT THE BOTTOM’
Hagel’s first-hand experience in war may win respect inside the Pentagon. He volunteered for the Vietnam War as an infantryman. He would become be the first defense secretary who started and ended his military career with an enlisted rank, as opposed to serving as an officer - an important distinction in wartime.
The enlisted ranks are “the ones who have the least say about where, when, and why we go to war, but bear the harshest consequences when we do,” Matt Pottinger, a veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and a former journalist, wrote in a piece on the “The Daily Beast” website applauding Hagel as a candidate to become defense chief.
Obama on Monday quoted Hagel saying: “My frame of reference … is geared towards the guy at the bottom who’s doing the fighting and the dying.”
Hagel’s comments on Middle East issues, including on Israel, are likely to complicate his Senate confirmation. House of Representatives Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a Virginia Republican, said in a statement on Monday he is “profoundly concerned and disappointed” by Hagel’s nomination.
Critics including Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League, a group devoted to fighting anti-Semitism, have raised questions about Hagel’s past comments, including one during a 2006 interview in which he was quoted as saying: “the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here.” Hagel also has faced criticism for urging direct talks with Iran.