It's official. President Obama has named former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) as his nominee for secretary of defense. Hence, we may be in store for the worst defense secretary nomination fight since George H.W. Bush's failed appointment of Sen. John Tower (R-Texas) more than 20 years ago.
The interesting question is, why? Why waste the political capital? Why pass over more qualified candidates who would sail through confirmation, including Michele Flournoy -- who'd be the first female defense secretary?
The most ridiculous answer is among the mainstream media's favorites: bipartisanship. According to Politico, the choice "appeals to Obama's bipartisan spirit." The Washington Post, in a front-page news story, says that "Hagel's successful nomination would add a well-known Republican to the president's second-term Cabinet at a time when he is looking to better bridge the partisan divide, particularly after a bitter election campaign."
What is particularly bizarre about this talking point is that it often appears in articles that go on to talk about how tough and grueling the nomination battle will be thanks to strong Republican opposition. So which is it? Is it a bridge across the partisan divide? Or is it an "in-your-face" nomination (South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham's words) aimed at eliciting a fight with Republicans?
At least from the perspective of nearly everyone on the right, it's the latter. Whether it's payback for the scuttled non-nomination of Susan Rice to be secretary of state or whether it's simply of a piece with Obama's efforts to divide and conquer the GOP that were on display throughout the "fiscal cliff" negotiations, the consensus in much of conservative Washington is that Obama is making this nomination at least in part out of spite.
Indeed, that's one major reason Hagel has so many unlikely friends these days. Hagel -- never overburdened with too heavy a reputation for insight, knowledge or humility -- is loathed, with ample justification, by many foreign-policy hawks, Israel supporters and neocons (those are overlapping but hardly synonymous groups, by the way). He is arguably the most prominent opponent of sanctions on bad actors in the Middle East. He's heaped scorn on those who'd take a hard line with Iran. His geopolitical acumen is of the sort that fails to shine even in the comment sections on blogs. The Iraq war, for example, was according to Hagel a war for oil.