Accomplished legislator. Effective, insightful administrator. Respected, bipartisan leader. Policy visionary. Nothing of the sort has been said of Chuck Hagel – or of President Obama’s other Cabinet nominees John Kerry (State) and Jack Lew (Treasury). When three so remarkably lackluster candidates are nominated for key posts, it is appropriate to ask, quoting A Mighty Wind, “What happened?”
One possible answer: the real Barack Obama finally stood up, and nominated stool pigeons to fill his Cabinet. No fair observer could have so characterized Bob Gates, or Lean Panetta, or even Hillary Clinton. Each had something resembling an achievement on his or her resume when they joined Mr. Obama’s cabinet. In contrast, Kerry and Hagel bring to the Cabinet Room nothing but an overdeveloped sense of their own senatorial grandiosity, while Lew brings only a reputation as an inflexible leftist partisan.
Indeed, if the president wanted competence at DoD, there was no shortage of qualified candidates, including former Undersecretary of Defense Michele Flournoy or Navy Secretary Richard Danzig. Yet neither made the cut, meaning Obama saw in Hagel something not seen in these other candidates. One wonders.
Hagel, by contrast, is a uniquely unqualified SecDef nominee, who approaches the Senate confirmation hearings with no leadership experience in the military or government. Hagel sits on Obama’s Intelligence Advisory Board (Bengazi?), and was on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, but unlike his unquestionably qualified predecessors – Rumsfeld, Gates, and Panetta, who brought years of thoughtful military and/or managerial experience – Hagel brings what, exactly?
A reputation for being an arrogant Senator whose greatest attribute was his embrace of conventional Beltway wisdom. Notably, Hagel’s two-term Senate record is devoid of anything resembling leadership, bipartisanship, or significant policy contributions. Indeed, his greatest accomplishment was alienating senators on both sides of the aisle.
In the Senate, Hagel was wrong on the Iraq surge, hesitant to condemn dangerous regimes, and fond of making inflammatory comments about the Jews. He, like President Obama, opposed the Patriot Act while voting to reauthorize it and spoke out against one of the most effective and proven anti-terror tools, the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program.