Commentary Magazine


Hagel Evolving to Fit Role As Yes-Man

As Jonathan noted earlier, there have been quite a few strange justifications for Chuck Hagel’s nomination to be secretary of defense. We are told that although Hagel only seems to speak of Israel through gritted teeth and with evident disdain, that is–according to the left–the new definition of what it means to be “pro-Israel.” We are also told he is a veteran and so he knows the horrors of war. But of course they can repeat this until they are blue in the face and it still won’t undo Hagel’s vote in favor of the Iraq war, and we all remember Barack Obama’s campaign putting out an ad ridiculing John McCain’s war injuries. So it’s unlikely that Hagel’s war heroics mean anything to the administration beyond their value in limiting criticism of Hagel.

One question critics of Hagel have asked repeatedly is why the Obama administration would nominate someone who claims to oppose the president’s own stated quest to stop Iran. Hagel is, according to the Washington Post, currently meeting with security officials to answer that question, explaining how ridiculous it is for them to have believed their lying eyes. From the Post:

Defense officials say Chuck Hagel is trying to set the record straight about his stand on Iran, telling senior Pentagon staff that he backs strong international sanctions against Tehran and believes all options, including military action, should be on the table….

Defense officials familiar with the meetings say Hagel told staff that his views on Iran have been misrepresented. Officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss a private meeting.

Hagel’s views have not been “misrepresented”; he has been quoted directly and his votes in the Senate are a matter of public record. But his views have become inconvenient for the administration, so Hagel has been asked to politely, but quickly, please evolve. And wouldn’t you know it–he’s evolved.

To be fair, this was always part of the defense of Hagel: his opinions are meaningless because Obama will make the decisions, so Hagel’s just there to be a prop so the media will report the cabinet’s bipartisan nature. The “prop” theory is actually the most robust defense of Hagel (which tells you something about Hagel), since it can’t technically be proven untrue until after he’s confirmed. On this note, Chris Cillizza, also at the Washington Post, has an article explaining that Obama wanted not competent thinkers but shallow yes-men–which is why he picked Hagel and John Kerry:

1. Obama knows his way around now. Four years ago, it was virtually impossible for Obama to have foreseen the challenges before him (and his presidency) or the people who would work best with him to fix them. Given that reality, he did what most of us would do — he tried to find the best, smartest person in each Cabinet position as a sort of default approach. Some worked out (Hillary Clinton at State), others didn’t (Steven Chu at Energy).  Fast forward four years, however, and Obama knows what (and who) he needs at each of these departments far better. He’s spent the last four years immersed in all of this stuff and can now make decisions based on his own observations not the idea that you always just need to get the “best person for the job”.

2. Obama’s not running for re-election: Unlike in the first term when Obama was VERY careful to ensure that his Cabinet not only looked like America but made the wide variety of interest groups in the political world — in the main — happy, there’s far less of a need for box-checking now that Obama will never stand for office again. Therefore, the fact that his first four second term Cabinet picks are all white men — a fact Republicans glory in pointing out — is less of a major political problem (or concern) for Obama than it would have been four years prior.

To sum up: Obama is free from the constraints of public opinion, so he can finally hire who he wants: no women, and none of the “best, smartest” people around. I somehow doubt this will make Obama’s critics less concerned about the ramifications of his second-term nominations.