Ex-Ambassador Crocker Supports Hagel's Nomination

Many Republicans have criticized President Obama's nomination of Chuck Hagel as Defense Secretary. Some Democrats are uneasy about their president's pick as well. But former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq and Afghanistan Ryan Crocker tells Steve Inskeep that Hagel is the right man for the job.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Let's hear another perspective on President Obama's choice for Defense secretary. Chuck Hagel faces sharp questions at the least on his way to Senate confirmation. Earlier this week on this program, the analyst Danielle Pletka argued that the former Republican senator has omnidirectionally offended everyone, with his views on Israel, talking to Iran, the war in Iraq, and much more.

Our next guest is a veteran diplomat who supports Chuck Hagel's nomination to be secretary of Defense. Ryan Crocker served under Presidents Obama, Bush and others, as ambassador to Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere.

Mr. Crocker, welcome back to the program.

RYAN CROCKER: Thanks, Steve. Great to be here.

INSKEEP: Why support Chuck Hagel, Ambassador?

CROCKER: You know, I've known Senator Hagel since he entered the Senate. I first met him when I was preparing to go out to Syria as ambassador in the spring of 1998. And while there are a lot of high-quality senators on that committee, I was particularly impressed by his thoughtfulness, his knowledge and his understanding that America needed to be engaged in a complex, very difficult world.

INSKEEP: Well, how do you think it is that Chuck Hagel has been accused of alienating so many people with various remarks over the years?

CROCKER: Well, he is a wonderfully nice person but he is also a very strong person. He is not afraid to, you know, express a view without engaging whether or not it's popular.

INSKEEP: One of the reasons that Senator Hagel, former Senator Hagel, is controversial is that he became a vocal critic of the war in Iraq, which is a country where you served as ambassador at one time, of course. Was he right about his criticism?

CROCKER: He initially supported the war. When things started turning south, he became a critic of it. Well, the truth is, I had more own reservations about the war before it was launched, but once it was, I was all in, literally - I was in Iraq starting April 2003, I had my first stint. Where I think he wrong, quite frankly, was his opposition to the surge.

INSKEEP: This is the increase in troops at the end of the Bush administration that was seen as reducing the violence ultimately, or helping to reduce the violence.

CROCKER: Correct. I think that surge was crucial in turning the tide and at least giving Iraq a chance at long-term security and stability. So I'm not a lobbyist for Chuck Hagel. I think he was wrong on this one. But it's easy to get things not quite right. I've done it myself.

INSKEEP: Is there a major issue facing the U.S. right now, such as Iran, such as a the Middle East conflict or other issues where you have looked at Chuck Hagel's statements and thought, well, on that one he's right.

CROCKER: Broadly speaking, he is right virtually all of the time. Take Iran. He has been criticized for saying we should negotiate with the Iranians. Well, I'm someone who did negotiate with Iranians on two occasions - over Afghanistan and over Iraq. And negotiation doesn't mean concession. As I've tried to point out before, negotiations for which are carefully prepared allow you some insight into your adversary. And I believe that to be Senator Hagel's view. You know, let's talk if they'll talk. Let's see what we learn. Maybe it will lead somewhere, but even if it doesn't, then it tells you where they're at and what your other options are. And I remember a piece in the Washington Post last year in which he made clear that use of force has to stay on the table. I don't think it's anybody's preferred option - it's certainly not mine - but you got to hold it there. And you know, a failed negotiation may make clear what your real options are.

INSKEEP: One other thing, Ambassador Crocker - what does the nomination of Chuck Hagel say about the foreign policy that President Obama may wish to pursue in his second term?

CROCKER: That's a complex question and it's probably broader than I'm really able to address. But what I would say off the top of my head is that he is signaling, I think, with his nominations of both Senator Hagel and Senator Kerry that he is going to be internationally engaged. These are two great internationalists. And that he is intending to work with others to the fullest extent possible. Because neither Hagel or Kerry or unilateralists. They've always believed in working with others.

INSKEEP: Ryan Crocker is a former U.S. ambassador to everywhere, really - Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, couple of others places. Ambassador, thank you very much.

CROCKER: Thank you, Steve. It's a pleasure.

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