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Editorial: GOP critics haven’t shown Hagel to be unfit

FILE - In this June 26 2008 file phothen Sen. Chuck Hagel R-Neb. speaks foreign policy Brookings InstitutiWashington. President Barack

FILE - In this June 26, 2008 file photo, then Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., speaks on foreign policy at the Brookings Institution in Washington. President Barack Obama may round out his new national security leadership team next week, with a nomination for defense secretary expected and a pick to lead the CIA possible. Hagel is the front-runner for the top Pentagon post. (AP Photo/Lauren Victoria Burke, File)

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Updated: February 25, 2013 12:22PM

To hear Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) tell it, the selection of former Sen. Chuck Hagel to be the next defense secretary is an “in your face” appointment.

But there’s little in Hagel’s record to support that remark. To justify an effort to block his nomination, which President Barack Obama officially submitted Monday, Republicans need to offer more evidence than we’ve seen so far, facts that show he’s not fit for the job.

It isn’t enough to suggest he’s not the candidate they prefer. It’s not Obama’s duty to name the person Senate Republicans would pick on their own.

Some senators aren’t happy that Hagel opposed the Iraq War. But history shows he was right. He also criticized President George W. Bush’s Patriot Act and warrantless wiretaps. He got that right, too.

Some gays were offended by Hagel’s reference in 1998 to an ambassadorial nominee as “openly, aggressively gay.” Hagel has apologized for that remark.

He also has been criticized for using the term “Jewish lobby.” He’s apologized for that, too, and two of Israel’s strongest Senate Democrat supporters — Senators Chuck Schumer of New York and Barbara Boxer of California — back him.

Hagel has voiced doubts about a military strike by either the United States or Israel against Iran, and as a senator, he voted against unilateral economic sanctions on Iran. But those are hardly crazy views, and he supports the joint international penalties that Obama has imposed. He has said he would support the president’s policies in other areas as well.

A new ad by an opposition group says Hagel “wants America to back down.” Former Sen. Rick Santorum calls Hagel “anti-Israel” and “pro-Iran.” Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) have said they will vote no. We hope Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk won’t join them.

Maybe what’s really rankling some Republicans is that Hagel didn’t endorse John McCain in the 2008 presidential race and backed a Nebraska Democrat last year for Senate from his home state.

But Hagel, who served two terms as a Republican senator from Nebraska, is a Vietnam War veteran who was twice awarded the Purple Heart. He was a member of the Foreign Relations and Intelligence committees, and he would be the first enlisted combat veteran to be defense secretary.

The next defense secretary must manage an uncertain world in which the United States is leaving Afghanistan and faces challenges from Iran, North Korea and elsewhere. At the same time, significant cuts in Pentagon spending seem unavoidable. It’s a big job, one in which it does not hurt to understand, firsthand, the limits and horrors of war.

Democrats have enough votes in the Senate to confirm Hagel, but they need at least five Republicans to avoid a filibuster under current rules.

On Jan. 31, the Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a confirmation hearing on Hagel’s nomination to replace Leon Panetta as Pentagon chief. The committee, and the full Senate, should vote in favor.

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