Chuck Hagel

Army’s Ban on Some Popular Hairstyles Raises Ire of Black Female Soldiers

Black women and their hair have been a topic of discussion for years by people like Maya Angelou, Al Sharpton and Salt-N-Pepa.

Now add Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to that list.

In reaction to a new Army regulation banning numerous hairstyles — twists, dreadlocks and large cornrows — popular with black women, the 16 women of the Congressional Black Caucus have asked Mr. Hagel to overturn the regulation on behalf of the 26,700 African-American women on active duty in the Army. The regulation comes at the same time as a new Army rule banning tattoos on the face, neck, hands, fingers and lower arms of recruits.

Both regulations are among new grooming standards that critics say are meant to further weed people out of an Army reducing its size from its post-9/11 peak of 570,000 to as low as 420,000 in the years to come. Representative Marcia L. Fudge, the Ohio Democrat who is chairwoman of the black caucus, said she had been struck in recent visits to military bases by how many soldiers — black and white — said they felt they were being pushed out of the military. The new regulations, announced on March 31, have intensified that feeling, she said.

“One of the things they should not do is insult the people who’ve given up their time and put their lives at risk by saying their hair is unkempt,” Ms. Fudge said. “Now they want to downsize, these styles are not appropriate?”

To others, the rules are the result of the coming home of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan.

“There’s a tendency during wartime to permit personal styles and variations in approach simply because more important things are at stake than how your hair looks or what tattoo is on your arm,” said Loren B. Thompson, a military expert at the Lexington Institute, a research organization. But now, he said, a smaller Army can “be more arbitrary about enforcing regimentation.”

Although the new rules on tattoos have come under fire, particularly since body art became popular among soldiers deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, the regulations on black hairstyles have drawn more outrage and charges of racism. By Friday, more than 17,000 people had signed an online petition sent to the White House to get the hair regulations rescinded.

At the root of the concern about the Army regulations, many black women said, is a lack of understanding about black hair, coupled with a norm that uses the hair of white women as its baseline. While black hair comes in all textures, much of it is deeply curly, making it difficult, unless chemically straightened, to pull back into a bun or to hang loose off the face in a neat, uniform way.

“Our hair is kinky,” said BriGette McCoy, a former Army specialist, her voice getting angrier as she spoke. “It is genetic, it is hereditary, there is nothing we can do about it. And to have someone tell you that because your hair comes out of your scalp that way, you have to go and change it, when no one else is required to change that about themselves?”

In Ms. McCoy’s view, the new regulations are a further affront to what she views as longtime Army squeamishness about the hair of black women, who make up more than a third of active-duty women in the Army. Twice when she was working as an Army data communications specialist in Germany, she said, her superiors ordered her back to her barracks because her commanding officer deemed her hair “unkempt.”

“They were saying it had to be neat and couldn’t be unkempt, and to them, neat and kempt meant straightened,” she recalled.

The word “unkempt” shows up in the new regulations, too: “Braids or cornrows that are unkempt or matted are considered dreadlocks and are not authorized.”

The word did not go unnoticed by Representative Barbara Lee, a California Democrat and a member of the black caucus. “This is very offensive,” she said.

Defense Department officials said Mr. Hagel “appreciates the Congressional Black Caucus’s concerns regarding this issue,” in the words of Lt. Cmdr. Nathan Christensen, a Pentagon spokesman. Then he quickly tossed the issue back to the people who had started the fuss. “We expect the Army to provide a response shortly,” Commander Christensen said.

Army officials, who said the new regulations simply clarify existing ones by specifically describing prohibited hairstyles, continued to try to explain them — it all seems to boil down to the need for uniformity among troops — but the explanations so far have not silenced the critics. One of the loudest among them is former Sgt. Jasmine Jacobs, the woman who started the White House petition. She said she had become alarmed the minute she had gotten an email.

“I remember thinking, ‘What on earth am I going to do with my hair?’ ” she said of her locks, which she keeps in two-strand twists that are now banned. Her only remaining options, she said, would be to have tiny cornrows, chemically straighten her hair, or get a weave or wig. She recalled deploying in Iraq in 2008 and 2009 with a woman who kept redoing her cornrows to make them neat and small enough to fit Army regulations, and “by the time we got back her hairline had receded an inch.”

Ms. Jacobs was a public affairs officer with the Georgia National Guard until April 11, when her discharge, originally scheduled for May 15, was unexpectedly moved up.

Even deployed black women in the Army who decide to straighten their hair run into problems, because the expensive hair products necessary to maintain it are often difficult to get, particularly in commissaries in Afghanistan.

As a result, Myraline Whitaker started a project, Sister Soldier, that ships hair products to black military women. She began the project in 2007 after a white Marine who had been deployed in Iraq told her that her strongest memory about a black soldier with whom she shared a room was the smell of her hair when she was using a hot comb to straighten it. Since then, Ms. Whitaker, a hotel consultant, has sent, on request, more than 7,000 care packages of black hair products to deployed women. In an interview, she said she was initially stunned by how many requests she received.

What has surprised critics of the regulations even more is that Army officials insist the updates were cleared by a focus group that included black women in the Army.

“African-American female soldiers were involved in the process of developing the new female hair standards,” said Lt. Col. Alayne P. Conway, an Army spokeswoman. “Not only were nearly 200 senior female leaders and soldiers, which included a representative sample of the Army’s populations, part of the decision-making process on the female hair standards, but the group was also led by an African-American female.”

The Army declined to give the names of the black women involved in the decision, or make them available for comment.

Is the Military About to Allow Transgender Soldiers?

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel caused a bit of a stir over the weekend when he said that the US military’s ban on transgender soldiers “continually should be reviewed” during an appearance on ABC's The Week. In addition to reminding everyone that Sunday talk shows aren’t just several hours of teeth gnashing and inhuman wailing, Hagel raised a few eyebrows among LGBT advocacy organizations, as his remarks come in the wake of a March report issued by the Palm Center that estimated some 15,000 transgender people are surreptitiously serving in the armed forces right now in addition to 130,000 or so trans veterans in the population at large.

But does Hagel’s vague promise to take another look at the issue—coupled with his forthright declaration that “every qualified American who wants to serve our country should have an opportunity if they fit the qualifications and can do it"—mean the Pentagon is actually going to change its policies? One encouraging sign came Wednesday when military officials announced they were considering a request from Chelsea Manning, the former intelligence officer charged with leaking troves of classified documents to Wikileaks in 2010, to be transferred to a civilian prison for gender treatment therapy. Indeed, the latest report suggests Hagel has already approved the request and it’s just a question of working out the logistics. More broadly, transgender advocates and military observers I spoke to are actually quite optimistic about the prospects for reform, even if the timeline remains cloudy at best.


Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel Will Step Down, Once Successor Is Confirmed

( is experiencing hiccups. Here’s our story about Chuck Hagel resigning as secretary of defense.)

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, the highest-profile Republican on President Obama’s Cabinet, will step down, once his successor is confirmed by the Senate.

Calling Hagel an “exemplary defense secretary,” Obama made the announcement in the State Dining Room of the White House on Monday.

Hagel, a two-term Republican senator, came to the post in February of 2013, the first enlisted combat veteran to lead the Department of Defense.

The New York Times, which first reported the story, says Obama made the decision Friday after several meetings. The Times adds:

“The officials described Mr. Obama’s decision to remove Mr. Hagel, 68, as a recognition that the threat from the Islamic State would require a different kind of skills than those that Mr. Hagel was brought on to employ. A Republican with military experience who was skeptical about the Iraq war, Mr. Hagel came in to manage the Afghanistan combat withdrawal and the shrinking Pentagon budget in the era of budget sequestration.

"But now ‘the next couple of years will demand a different kind of focus,’ one administration official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. He insisted that Mr. Hagel was not fired, saying that he initiated discussions about his future two weeks ago with the president, and that the two men mutually agreed that it was time for him to leave.”

The news comes just as American troops are completing their combat role in Afghanistan and just as the administration announced a new war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Back in October, there were reports from CNN and the New York Times that described a memo written by Hagel in which he criticized the Obama administration’s policy toward Syria.

Citing an unnamed senior U.S. official, CNN reported that Hagel told National Security Adviser Susan Rice that “we need to have a sharper view of what to do about the Assad regime.”

Publicly, Hagel seemed in lockstep with the Obama administration. During congressional testimony earlier this month, Hagel said the administration’s strategy against the Islamic State was making progress.

But he was sober about the mission to equip and train Syrian rebels.

“We know the opposition will continue to face intense pressure in a multifront battle space, and we are considering options for how U.S. and coalition forces can further support these forces once they are trained and equipped," Hagel said. "Our strategy in Syria will demand time, patience and perseverance to deliver results. We cannot accomplish our objectives in Syria all at once.”

Update at 11:25 a.m. ET. An 'Exemplary Defense Secretary’:

Announcing Hagel’s resignation at the White House’s State Dining Room, President Obama said he was an “exemplary defense secretary.”

Obama said Hagel had deftly guided the military through a tough budgetary time and the drawdown in Afghanistan. Hagel, Obama said, also positioned the military to effectively deal with new threats like the one posed by the Islamic State.

As the first enlisted combat veteran to lead the Department of Defense, Obama said, Hagel “has been no ordinary secretary of defense.”

“He sees himself in [service members] and they see themselves in him,” Obama said.

Obama praised Hagel for always “giving it to me straight.”

“We come from different parties,” Obama said. “In accepting this position, you sent a powerful message … that when it comes to national security, we are all Americans.”

Hagel talked briefly. He thanked Obama and the military and redoubled his support for the president. He said serving as defense secretary was the “greatest privilege of my life.”

“I will continue to support you, Mr. President, and the men and women who defend this country every day so unselfishly,” Hagel said.

Update at 10:23 a.m. ET. A Surprise:

“Hagel was not seen as a very forceful secretary of defense,” NPR’s Tom Bowman tellsMorning Edition. “We’re told that in Cabinet meetings he really didn’t say that much, but again this does come as a surprise that he’s leaving this early.”

Tom says Hagel disagreed with the White House because he wanted to take a harder line against the regime of Bashar Assad in Syria. But the White House was resistant to that kind of strategy.

Tom says there had been whispers that Hagel may not stay through the remainder of Obama’s second term, but this sudden announcement comes as a surprise.

–Eyder Peralta, NPR
"I can think of no historical case where the United States succeeded in an enterprise of such gravity and complexity as regime change in Iraq without the support of a regional and international coalition - not just for military operations against Iraq, should that day come, but for the day after, when the interests and intrigues of outside powers could undermine the fragility of an Iraqi government in transition."

– Former Senator and Defense Secretary nominee CHUCK HAGEL, remarking on a possible U.S. invasion of Iraq, in Aug. 2002 – seven months before the attack.

If only we’d listened.

(via the New York Times)


Watch John McCain admit that the Chuck Hagel filibuster was political payback.

From Steve Benen:

“For those who can’t watch clips online, this was the key portion of the senator’s comments:

”[T]o be honest with you, Neil, it goes back to there’s a lot of ill will towards Senator Hagel because when he was a Republican, he attacked President Bush mercilessly, at one point said he was the worst president since Herbert Hoover, said that the surge was the worst blunder since the Vietnam War, which is nonsense, and was very anti his own party and people. People don’t forget that. You can disagree, but if you’re disagreeable, then people don’t forget that.“

It was a fascinating take on recent events because McCain finally put aside his talking points and told the truth: he and his Republican colleagues engaged in obstructionism unseen in American history because … McCain and his pals hold a grudge.

Keep in mind, cabinet nominees like John Kerry and Hillary Clinton also condemned George W. Bush and opposed the "surge” policy in Iraq, but Kerry and Clinton sailed through the Senate confirmation process with nary an opposition vote.

But that’s what makes McCain’s comments so fascinating: while Republicans hate Democrats, they really hate Republicans who occasionally side with Democrats. So much so that a guy like McCain – who previously said he’d consider Hagel for his own cabinet – is willing to break his word and participate in an unprecedented filibuster.

Before we move on, though, I’d be remiss if I neglected to mention McCain’s concerns about those who are “disagreeable.”

It’s a fact that generally goes unmentioned, but John McCain is not especially well liked by his own colleagues. During his two failed presidential campaigns, there was a noticeable lack of endorsements from other Republican senators – folks who’ve worked with him every day for years, if not decades – who threw their support to almost anyone else.

There’s no mystery as to why, exactly, McCain’s colleagues don’t really like McCain

* In a “heated dispute over immigration-law overhaul” [in 2007], McCain screamed at Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), “F*** you!” He added, “This is chickens*** stuff…. You’ve always been against this bill, and you’re just trying to derail it.” [5/19/07]

* In a discussion over the “fate of Vietnam MIAs,” Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) asked McCain, “Are you calling me stupid?” “No,” replied McCain, “I’m calling you a f***ing jerk!” [Newsweek, 2/21/00]

* At a GOP meeting in fall 1999, McCain “erupted” at Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM) and shouted, “Only an a**hole would put together a budget like this.” When Domenici expressed his outrage, McCain responded, “I wouldn’t call you an a**hole unless you really were an a**hole.” [Newsweek, 2/21/00]

This guy has the gall to say, “You can disagree, but if you’re disagreeable, then people don’t forget that”? Even for McCain, the irony is rich.“

The Neocons vs. Chuck Hagel

If the neocons in the GOP who brought us the Iraqi war and conjured up “weapons of mass destruction” to justify it are against Chuck Hagel for Defense Secretary, Hagel gets bonus points in my book.

They’re the hawkish, bellicose bunch in the Republican Party – William Kristol, Richard Perle, and Ellott Abrams – who shaped DIck Cheney’s and Don Rumsfeld’s disastrous foreign policy.

These are also the people who have supported Israel’s rightward lurch in recent years. They don’t want a two-state solution. They eschew any possibility of talks with Hamas or Iran. They favor building more settlements in the West Bank. 

Yes, it was dumb for Hagel to use the term “Jewish lobby” instead of “Israel lobby,” but that alone shouldn’t disqualify him. Everyone in official Washington knows how much power is wielded in that city by the Sheldon Adelsons of American politics who think Israel can do no wrong.

The problem is Washington pays too little attention to the large number of Americans – Jewish and non-Jewish – who think Israel is doing a lot that’s wrong, and worry that the path it’s on threatens its long-term survival. 

The real question is what Hagel believes about the appropriate use of American power.

That the neocons hate him is the best sign yet that Chuck Hagel may be the right person for the job.

McCain Holds Nation Hostage to a Grudge.

As anyone who tries to remember will remember, “Benghazi-gate” was a trumped up scandal designed to deny President Obama reelection. Obviously, it failed. The story was that the White House covered up certain facts that would hurt Obama on the campaign trail. So a narrative was cooked up to explain why this was all a big scandal that the media should give wall-to-wall coverage.

The way the narrative was supposed to go was that the President saw electoral doom in a terrorist attack on a consulate in Benghazi. Why this was supposed to sink his chances isn’t clear nor was it ever explained. It just would, OK?

So anyway, the White House colluded with the State Department to hide the terrorist attack and blame it on anti-American rioters — as if there’s any substantial difference here. The scandal’s narrative arc had it that a terrorist attack would mean the president would have trouble being reelected, but a riot would mean he wouldn’t. Why? Because stop asking so many sensible questions, that’s why.

Of course, the president won reelection fairly easily and decisively, despite the fact that this whole terrorist/riot thing was cleared up long before election day. Despite Republicans’ best efforts to churn up a big, scary scandal, young “Benghazi-gate” had died. It now exists solely as a zombie. It has to. The problem with made up scandals is that they have to be played out to the bitter end, lest the scandal-mongers be exposed as con artists, charlatans, and liars. The problem with “Benghazi-gate” is that it’s shambled along in undead pointlessness far beyond even that end stage — which, for all practical purposes, it entered when Barack Obama was reelected back in November. It continues to lurch around only because the GOP refuses to bury it, as John McCain demonstrated so well this weekend. Steve Benen has the skinny:

McCain, just a few days after explaining how important it is not to be “disagreeable,” became unusually belligerent, asking the host whether he cares about the deaths of four Americans.

Gregory tried to get an answer anyway, responding, “You said there is a cover-up. A cover-up of what?” McCain, unable to think of anything substantive, said, “Of the information concerning the deaths of four brave Americans.”

Even for McCain, whose capacity has deteriorated sharply in recent years, this was a pathetic display.

“Remember, McCain has had several months to think about this,” Benen says. “He’s sat through classified and unclassified briefings. He’s participated in a series of congressional hearings. He’s (presumably) read the results of independent investigations, and had his own questions answered, verbally and in writing.”

John McCain should be (and in all honesty probably is) one of the most informed people in America about what went down at that consulate. Yet he claims some sort of cover up and, when pressed as to what exactly is being covered up, gives an answer pretty much equivalent to “bad stuff, OK?” The man clearly has nothing.

“The exchange on ‘Meet the Press’ wasn’t awkward; it wasn’t bizarre; it was alarming,” Benen says. That it is.

The other main whipster flogging this long deceased horse is Sen. Lindsey Graham. But Graham at least has a reason — he’s up for reelection and he faces some pretty unfair charges of being a RiNO. The best way to avoid being seen as the dreaded “moderate Republican” is to be Tea Party insane about one big, headline-grabbing issue. The base loves conspiracy theories, so Graham’s propping this one up and pretending it’s still alive.

As dishonest and deliberately partisan as Graham’s reason for perpetuating this “scandal” may be, McCain doesn’t even have that excuse. He’s just out there having some sort of old man tantrum because he’s John McCain and that’s what John McCain does. There is no scandal here, no cover up, just John McCain dealing out political payback for a grudge that should’ve grown cold a long, long time ago. McCain himself spilled the beans on that point.

“But to be honest with you, Neil, it goes back to there’s a lot of ill will towards Senator Hagel because when he was a Republican, he attacked President Bush mercilessly and say he was the worst President since Herbert Hoover and said the surge was the worst blunder since the Vietnam War, which was nonsense,” McCain told Fox News’ Neil Cavuto last week. “He was anti-his own party and people — people don’t forget that. You can disagree but if you’re disagreeable, then people don’t forget that.”

So Benghazi is just a way for McCain to hold up Chuck Hagel’s confirmation (both McCain and Graham concede that Hagel’s all but officially in, by the way). We’re into the Obama administration’s second term and McCain’s still fighting the battles of the Bush administration’s first term. That’s not politics, that’s personal. And if playing politics with the nominee for Defense Secretary is bad, then giving him the run around because you’re just pissy and a jerk is even worse. McCain is holding up the nation’s business because of a grudge that began roughly a decade ago. He’s not serving the nation’s interest. In fact, it could hardly be said he’s serving his own, since no one — himself included — is going to get anything out of this. He’s just nursing a grudge in his shrunken, cobweb-filled heart.

Want a scandal? Here’s one: Sen John McCain’s blatant abuse of power to punish a man for disagreeing with the neocons. And to make matters worse, McCain is basically punishing Hagel for being right about Iraq.

There’s your scandal. It’s a shameful one. And it’s one the media will completely ignore.


[image source]

When you look at the greatest democracy…the largest economy in the world and we’re putting our people through this—that’s not leadership. That’s abdication of responsibilities…This is an astoundingly irresponsible way to govern…It is really dangerously shortsighted and irresponsible, because what this will lead to in the United States of America, if this continues, is we will have a country that’s ungovernable.
—  Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to reporters on his plane (en route to South Korea).

Meet the new Defense Secretary

It was an incredibly rocky road for former Sen. Chuck Hagel, but the Senate just approved his nomination to serve as the Secretary of Defense in a 58-41 vote.

Republicans had laid out the first-ever filibuster against a Defense secretary nominee, in addition to ad campaigns and continual skepticism about his ideology and qualifications. But in the end, Hagel was appointed.

Read more on the vote here, via Politics Now.

We do not have, at 12 o’clock today, a Secretary of Defense.
—  Harry Reid, revealing today that Senate Republicans have rounded up the 41 votes necessary to block the nomination of Chuck Hagel to the Defense Department. Today is outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s last day on the job; if Republicans make good on their threats during Hagel’s confirmation vote tomorrow–and this is certainly a big “if”–it will be the first time a nominee for Secretary of Defense has been filibustered, and the country will be left without a Defense Secretary. A couple of Republican senators have threatened to block Hagel’s nomination unless the Obama Administration releases more information about the attack last year on the American consulate in Benghazi, an incident with which Hagel was wholly uninvolved. A Hagel spokesman said today that despite the threats of his former colleagues, the Nebraska Republican is not withdrawing his nomination. source