Opinion: bad judgment and the Biden Pentagon

Colin Kahl appears before a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing regarding his nomination to be Assistant Secretary of Defense for Policy on March 4.


Rod Lamkey – Cnp / Zuma Press

Another Biden nominee with a history of intemperate tweets risks sinking into the Senate, and the press compares him to Neera Tanden, the president’s first retired pick to head the Office of Management and Budget. However, whoever replaces Ms. Tanden is unlikely to change the trajectory of the progressive policies of the Biden Administration.

The Pentagon’s nomination of Colin Kahl, a dogmatic defender of the Iran nuclear deal, is another story. A negative vote in the Senate Armed Services Committee could propel the Administration toward a Middle East approach that better serves America’s national interests.

President Biden appointed Kahl as undersecretary of defense for policy, one of the most important non-cabinet positions in the federal government. While the Secretary of Defense manages the high-level defense policy and the Undersecretary manages the department on a day-to-day basis, the Undersecretary plays the lead role in setting the strategy, including representing the department at deputy meetings of the Council of National security.

Kahl’s strategic misjudgments in the Middle East have been spoken. In 2015, as Biden’s national security adviser, Kahl advocated easing sanctions against Iran, stating that “they are not going to spend the vast majority of money on weapons, most of it will go to butter.” At the event, Tehran took advantage of the windfall to increase its funding for proxies in Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.

Outside of government, Kahl relentlessly attacked the Trump Administration’s reorientation of Iran policy, tweeting in 2019 that the “hawks” in Congress “will not be satisfied until they get the war they have pushed for decades.” Democrat Joe Manchin, the swing vote over the military who opposed the Iran deal and applauded President Trump’s 2018 withdrawal, might be interested in whether Kahl thinks he’s a warmonger too.

Kahl seems unable to see the strategic benefits to US interests in containing Iran. He only sees apocalyptic risks. After the American attack that killed Iranian terrorist commander Qasem Soleimani, who had the blood of thousands of Americans on his hands, Kahl’s reaction on Twitter was that “Trump has started a war with Iran in Iraq.” The war never came.

When the US decided to move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, Kahl declared that “Trump’s decision on Jerusalem further isolates the US.” and warned of a “third intifada” or Palestinian uprising. However, the move of the Embassy strengthened the United States’ ties with its closest ally in the Middle East. The Trump Administration’s broader rebalancing in the Middle East toward Israel and the Gulf states helped negotiate closer ties between Arabs and Israelis, culminating in the 2020 Abraham Accords.

Kahl described the deals in his hearing as the “culmination of a set of trends, frankly, that have been in the region for about a decade.” However, he does not recognize how the US courtship of Iran can destabilize the region. He does not appear to have revised his thinking on the 2015 nuclear deal at all, although even some proponents of the deal acknowledge that the Trump Administration’s sanctions on Iran were stronger than they thought possible.

Last week, senators also lobbied Kahl on the idea of ​​a “no-first-use” nuclear policy, which would damage the credibility of the US deterrent and which Joe Biden supported when Kahl was his adviser. Kahl did not give a clear position in a written response to the committee, although at the hearing he said he was opposed. A tweet from 2017 also appears to suggest skepticism about the US planned strategic ground deterrent missile system.

Democratic administrations rely more on diplomacy and soft power than Republican administrations, and that’s clearly the Biden team’s preference. But with the State Department swarming with liberal internationalists and John Kerry as a cabinet-level climate envoy, it is important that the Pentagon provide a contrary perspective.

Kahl’s nomination is jeopardized by bombastic tweets such as his assertion that “every Republican senator” who supported arms sales to Saudi Arabia “shares ownership of the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.” But there are strong political reasons for the Senate to exercise its advice and consent power to demand a more headstrong strategic thinker for this crucial national security position.

Main Street: For criticizing HR1 as an “unconstitutional takeover”, Mike Pence is accused of spreading the “big lie” of Donald Trump. Images: AFP via Getty Images / AP Composite: Mark Kelly

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It appeared in the print edition of March 9, 2021.


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