In the latest entry in the battle over Chuck Hagel’s possible nomination for secretary of defense, the Washington Free Beacon reported yesterday that Senator Marco Rubio “is threatening to place a hold” on Hagel should he be nominated. Interestingly, Rubio’s concerns have nothing to do with Israel, Iran or any of the other major concerns that have already been raised about Hagel. Instead, Rubio focuses on a totally different area: Cuba. The report quotes Rubio’s communications director, Alex Conant, who says:
Promoting democracy in Latin America is a priority for Sen. Rubio, and he’s put holds on other administration nominees over the issue. If President Obama were to nominate Sen. Hagel for a cabinet position, I’m sure we would have questions about Cuba positions.
Rubio’s opposition apparently stems from the fact that Hagel has previously said that “we have an outdated, unrealistic, irrelevant policy” on Cuba. Hagel has long been a critic of Washington’s embargo and a supporter of trade with Cuba.
Leave aside the fact that this is barely if at all relevant to the secretary of defense’s portfolio. There are at least a dozen other issues that are higher on the Pentagon’s priority list, and the White House and Congress are both far more powerful in shaping the future direction of U.S. policy toward Cuba. More important, if we do want to use this as a test of Hagel’s judgment, his position on Cuba is a reason to support his nomination, not oppose it. He’s totally right: our Cuba policy is an outdated relic of the Cold War, and there’s no reason why we should refuse to trade and engage diplomatically with Cuba when we simultaneously do so with any number of other autocracies. As Doug Bandow argued here at TNI last week, this policy has long since lost whatever utility it had, and it is past time to change it.
There is an old proverb that says that you can judge a man by his enemies. While we should perhaps not endorse this rule fully, it's certainly true that Hagel’s critics have only been making him look better and better.