Colin Kahl appears before a Senate Armed Forces committee hearing regarding his appointment as Under-Secretary of State for Politics on March 4.
Rod Lamkey – Cnp / Zuma Press
Another Biden candidate with a record of moderate tweets is about to sink into the Senate, and the press compares him to Neera Tanden, the withdrawn first-ever presidential election running the bureau of administration and budget. However, anyone who replaces Ms. Tanden is unlikely to change the course of the progressive policies of the Biden government.
The Pentagon nomination of Colin Kahl, a dogmatic proponent of the Iranian nuclear deal, is a different story. A no on the Senate Armed Forces Committee could lead the government towards an approach in the Middle East that better serves America’s national interest.
President Biden has tapped into Mr. Kahl as Undersecretary of State for Defense for politics, one of the most important non-cabinet duties in the federal government. While the Secretary of Defense is responsible for high-level defense policy and the Deputy Secretary manages the division on a daily basis, the Undersecretary plays the key role-setting strategy – including representing the division at the National Security Council’s assemblies.
Mr. Kahl’s strategic misjudgments in the Middle East were voiced. As Mr Biden’s national security advisor, Mr Kahl spoke out in favor of easing sanctions against Iran in 2015, stating that “the vast majority of money is not spent on weapons, most of it is spent on butter”. In the event that Tehran took advantage of the windstorm to increase its funding for proxies in Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.
Outside the government, Mr. Kahl relentlessly attacked the Trump administration’s realignment of Iran policy, tweeting in 2019 that “hawks” in Congress “won’t be satisfied until they get the war they’ve been driving for decades”. Democrat Joe Manchin, the swing vote on the armed forces that opposed the Iran deal and welcomed President Trump’s 2018 withdrawal, might be interested in whether Mr Kahl believes he is a warmonger too.
Mr. Kahl does not appear to be able to see the strategic benefits to US interests in containing Iran. He only sees apocalyptic risks. After the US strike that killed the Iranian terror commander Qasem Soleimani, who had the blood of thousands of Americans in his hands, Mr. Kahl reacted further
was that “Trump started a war with Iran in Iraq.” War never came.
When the US decided to move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, Kahl declared “Trump’s Jerusalem decision will continue to isolate the US” and warned of a “third intifada” or a Palestinian uprising. The embassy train, however, strengthened America’s ties with its closest ally in the Middle East. The Trump administration’s broader balance in the Middle East vis-à-vis Israel and the Gulf States helped broker closer Arab-Israeli ties, culminating in the 2020 Abraham Accords.
Mr Kahl described the agreements in his hearing as “the culmination of a number of trends that have frankly been in the region for about a decade”. However, he fails to see how US advertising for Iran can destabilize the region. He does not seem 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 against Iran had more clout than they thought possible.
The Senators last week also pushed Mr. Kahl on the idea of a “no-first-use” core policy that would damage the credibility of American deterrence and the
Approved when Mr. Kahl was his advisor. Mr Kahl did not give a clear position in a written reply to the committee, although he said at the hearing that he was against it. A tweet from 2017 also seems to indicate skepticism about America’s proposed missile system for ground-based strategic deterrence.
Democratic governments rely more on diplomacy and soft power than Republican governments, and that’s clearly Team Biden’s preference. Since the State Department is made up of liberal internationalists and John Kerry as cabinet-level climate commissioner, it is important for the Pentagon to offer a different perspective.
Mr. Kahl’s nomination is at risk for bombastic tweets like his claim that “every Republican senator” who supported arms sales to Saudi Arabia “shares ownership of the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.” However, there are good political reasons for the Senate to use its advice and consent to call for a tougher strategic thinker for this crucial national security post.
Main Street: For criticizing HR1 as an “unconstitutional takeover”, Mike Pence is accused of telling Donald Trump’s “big lie”. Images: AFP via Getty Images / AP Composite: Mark Kelly
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Published in the print edition on March 9, 2021.