Retired Ambassador Ryan Crocker Takes Plea Bargain in DUI Charge (NOV. 2012)

After three postment of his DUI hearing in Spokane, Washington (originally scheduled for September 12, then postponed to October 10 and later to November 5), Ambassador Crocker finally had his court hearing on Nov. 21. According to the Spokesman.com, the former ambassador pleaded guilty to “a reduced charge of reckless driving in connection with a drunken auto accident” this past summer. Excerpt: The 63-year-old retired diplomat accepted the plea bargain this afternoon in Spokane County District Court. He faced a drunken-driving charge following a collision with a semitruck at a busy Spokane Valley intersection on Aug. 14. He drove away as a witness tailed him, authorities said. No injuries were reported in the collision.

Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense

“His keen understanding of national security was clear to me as I represented the U.S. across the Middle East.”

Mr. Crocker has served as U.S. ambassador to Lebanon, Kuwait, Syria, Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan.

The discussion of former Sen. Chuck Hagel’s possible nomination for secretary of defense continues to swirl. I recently joined with eight other senior former Foreign Service colleagues in an open letter expressing our unqualified support for the idea and for Mr. Hagel as a person of integrity, courage and wisdom. Here’s why.

As a veteran of almost 40 years in Middle Eastern affairs, I have a sense of how complex and multifaceted the issues in that region are. There are no easy answers or prepackaged solutions, and Mr. Hagel understood this from the day he walked into the Senate in 1997.

I began my three-year tour as U.S. ambassador to Syria the following year. During that time and beyond, there was never a question in my mind about Mr. Hagel’s support for Israel. Neither was there a question about his support for Middle East peace, and he understood that peace is made between enemies, not friends. He backed the process, led by then-President Bill Clinton, that almost produced peace in early 2000.

Mr. Hagel understands far better than most the evils of Hamas and Hezbollah, both backed by Iran. He also appreciates the importance of looking in and among those groups for fissures that might lead to internal debate, dissension or division—or even to areas of agreement with the U.S. In the months after the 9/11 attacks, I negotiated with Iranian officials regarding Afghanistan; it accomplished a little of both, spurring agreement on some issues and internal debate among the Iranians on others.

Chuck Hagel understood this, as he understood the importance of the unsuccessful talks I had with the Iranians in 2007, when I was serving as U.S. ambassador to Iraq. The failure of those talks helped convince Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki that a diplomatic solution to Iranian interference in Iraq wasn’t possible, at which point he decided to use his army successfully against Iranian-backed militias.

That fundamentally improved the political dynamic in Iraq and ultimately made it possible for the U.S. to end its combat role there while giving Iraq an excellent chance for a stable and secure future. Back in 2007 this complex dynamic was invisible even to seasoned observers, but Chuck Hagel got it.

It is true that he opposed the Iraq war. My Foreign Service colleagues and I noted with admiration his comment that in a democracy “to not question your government is unpatriotic.” President Obama, on Sunday’s “Meet the Press,” called Mr. Hagel “a patriot,” and I agree.

With two Purple Hearts from Vietnam, another unpopular war, Mr. Hagel also understands service. Throughout my tenure, he was unfailingly courteous and supportive to me and others serving our nation to the best of our ability, including during the contentious congressional hearings on Iraq in 2007 and 2008. In my office I have a 2008 photo from Baghdad with Mr. Hagel and his former chief of staff, who was serving with me in Iraq.

When I reopened the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban, Mr. Hagel was an early visitor to Kabul who understood the long-term strategic importance of America’s engagement in Afghanistan and relationship with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. He has remained consistent, under Presidents Bush and Obama, in his support for that engagement—for maintaining a presence of troops and other assets to ensure that no strategic threat to the U.S. could ever again emerge from Afghanistan.

I hosted Mr. Hagel in 2006 while serving as U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, and once again he impressed me with his grasp of the complexity and significance of the challenges America faces there. He understood that Pakistan, while far from a perfect ally, was an indispensable partner.

I still remember his frank but nuanced conversation with Pakistan’s then-president, Pervez Musharraf, and the message he carried back to Washington: The U.S. has to implement a multidimensional policy of pressure and support, adjusted to fit prevailing circumstances. Above all, America needs to demonstrate strategic patience—a sense that it is in this relationship for the long run and won’t abandon the region as in the early 1990s, a decision that inadvertently paved the road to 9/11. It was the right policy then under one president and it is the right policy now under another.

These experiences taught me that Chuck Hagel is a statesman, and America has few of them. He knows the leaders of the world and their issues. At a time when bipartisanship is hard to find in Washington, he personifies it. Above all, he has an unbending focus on U.S. national security, from his service in Vietnam decades ago to his current position on the Intelligence Advisory Council.

Mr. Hagel would run the Defense Department; it would not run him. And as America’s wars abroad wind down, it is clear from his record of service to veterans—and his own experience as one of them—that they would receive the support they deserve after they have put their lives on the line for the country.

The U.S. secretary of defense today is a high-stakes actor in international diplomacy. America is well-served when the Pentagon and State Department work together, as they have since Robert Gates took over the Pentagon in 2006. With Mr. Hagel at Defense and John Kerry at State, America would again benefit from that cooperation. Chuck Hagel would be a great secretary of defense.

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