Why Hagel?

Posted: Jan 07, 2013 1:21 PM

On yesterday's "This Week," Jonathan Karl noted that at present, there is insufficient support among Democrats to confirm Chuck Hagel:

What, perhaps, is most interesting about the nomination is the rationale for it.  Why would the President not pick the superbly qualified Michelle Flounoy, former Deputy Secretary of Defense for Policy, who commands bipartisan support and would be the first woman to hold the post? 

Why pick a  man who instead commands bipartisan opposition, on the left because of his comments about gays and elsewhere because of his history of anti-Jewish remarks?  Surely it can't be that important to the President to put a thumb in the eye of Israel (though it seems to be to some of his supporters).

Ron Fournier (who has been thinking off the liberal reservation, at least since the President's been safely reelected) speculates that Obama likes Hagel because Hagel is just like him (a plausible theory given the President's well-known penchant for self-adulation), writing:

By nominating Chuck Hagel to be his Defense secretary, President Obama is putting forward an aloof contrarian who doesn’t suffer fools--a striving politician who considers himself above politics. Hagel’s intellectual arrogance angers party colleagues, raising suspicions about what he really stands for, as well as doubts about whether he’s a team player.

In other words, Obama has picked a man very much like himself. Hagel is Obama in a GOP jersey.

It's more likely that Hagel's ability to give Obama cover on some of his more extreme national security positions -- including  slashing the Pentagon budget and taking a do-nothing stance toward Iran -- is the real reason for the nomination.  But some of the pitfalls that lie ahead for Hagel (and Obama) have a lot to do with their shared inability to "suffer fools."  As David Brooks has pointed out, those who deem themselves too important and too talented to do so often end up smaller and less effective for it.

Given Obama and Hagel's shared priorities, in this case, perhaps that's a good thing.