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What the Hagel Debate Is Really About: The Wisdom of Preventative War

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Robert Satloff identifies a real, substantive issue in the Hagel debate amid the tawdry smear campaign:

Even supporters of Hagel’s nomination must admit that it is nearly impossible to find any support in his record for the idea of “prevention” that undergirds the strategy toward Iran. This concept, which has been publicly embraced by Obama, means that the United States should deter Iran not from using a bomb but, rather, from acquiring one — preventing Tehran peacefully, if possible; through military means, if necessary.

While Hagel has not specifically repudiated prevention, he has criticized key elements of the policy. He has expressed skepticismthat the United States should threaten Iran militarily; he has suggested that U.S. muscle-flexing in the Persian Gulf sours the possibility for a negotiated settlement with Iran; and he has been critical of the military option to delay or destroy the Iranian nuclear program.

In this context, the looming fight over Hagel’s confirmation has obscured the strategic repercussion of the nomination.

As Satloff notes, it's odd for an administration that has publicly embraced the idea of the preventative war to nominate a defense secretary who has been skeptical of the idea. That is, unless President Obama isn't committed to a preventative war or Hagel is willing to swallow his reservations and salute when/if the time comes.

Unfortunately, what's not going to happen during the Hagel confirmation hearings is an actual debate about the wisdom of preventative wars and specifically the wisdom of a preventative war against Iran. Hagel will have to toe the administration's line, which is that a preventative war is fully on the table if Iran doesn't knuckle under, and whatever misgivings everyone thinks he has will have to be sacrificed on the altar of expediency.

(AP Photo)