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Hagel’s no maverick today

If former Sen. Chuck Hagel would be a change agent at the Pentagon, he's giving no hint of that in the live broadcast I'm watching of his confirmation hearing.

Chuck Hagel in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Credit: C-SPAN

Right out of the box, Hagel appeared to dash speculation that he might be the guy to talk the administration out of its reliance on drones to track and kill suspected insurgents and terrorists.

He said the U.S. would “keep up the pressures” against Al-Qaida’s offshoots in North Africa, Somalia and Yemen. “At the Pentagon, that means continuing to invest in and build the tools to assist in that fight, such as special operations forces and new intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance technologies,” Hagel said.

He didn’t use the word drone or any of its synonyms, so it's hard to know exactly what he meant by intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. These days, everything from F-35s to Virginia-class subs are routinely cast as ISR tools. However, camera and missile-equipped unmanned planes have figured large in the very places Hagel mentioned.

If Hagel turns out to be a drone war convert, maybe it's not surprising that a Vietnam veteran would see the value of robotic planes over boots on the grounds -- if indeed that's the choice the U.S. is facing.

Hagel also raised the specter of cyber attacks, and he elaborated later at the invitation of Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.), who is working to bring more cyber jobs to his state:

“It’s an insidious, quiet kind of threat that we’ve never quite seen before,” Hagel said. “It can paralyze a nation in a second,” he added, by “knocking out satellites.”

For us to find out for sure what Hagel would do as defense secretary, he'll have to overcome Republican criticism that he's an anti-Israel flip-flopper who blew the call on the Iraq surge and would risk unilateral nuclear disarmament.

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