WASHINGTON -- Former senator Chuck Hagel is a suave, energetic, spirited fellow. He is intelligent, and from his early youth apparently patriotic and undoubtedly courageous. He showed that in Vietnam. Hagel has been a Republican senator and an accomplished businessman. Now he is President Barack Obama's nominee for secretary of defense. Because he is President Obama's nominee for secretary of defense he is attracting dutiful scrutiny, and that is all to the good. This is not your ordinary presidency. In domestic policy and foreign policy President Obama is showing every indication of attempting to be an epochal president (with four million fewer votes for his second term than for his first).
That is to say, he poses a distinct break from Ronald Reagan's model of government and even from Franklin Roosevelt's. In the economy he seems to be resurrecting the welfare state on the model of France or perhaps Spain. In foreign policy he famously promises to "lead from behind," as illogical as that sounds. In both areas his exemplars are sure losers, but his party and his partisans seem not to have noticed.
He is going to need very cunning cabinet leaders to accomplish his goals, particularly at the State Department and Defense. At state he will have, if all goes well, Senator Jean-Francois Kerry, who, as the Wall Street Journal's James Taranto has perceptively noted, served in Vietnam. Kerry is eminently adept at leading from behind, so no problem. Is Hagel equal to the task? Actually, I think he is. He proved in his memoir, published in 2006, a ready ability to juggle the facts, to mask the truth. Some call it casuistry.
I am in debt to my friend Seth Lipsky at the New York Sun for unearthing the corpus delicti. The quotes are misleading. They are meant to mislead. They leave the reader with the idea they were uttered when many had concluded that the Vietnam War was lost. Truth be known, they were uttered in May of 1964, well before LBJ even began his Vietnam buildup. Their purpose is to defame Lyndon Johnson and to discredit the Vietnam War.
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