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Right Turn
Posted at 09:47 AM ET, 11/13/2012

Rice to State and Kerry to the Pentagon?

The Post reports: “President Obama is considering asking Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) to serve as his next defense secretary, part of an extensive rearrangement of his national security team that will include a permanent replacement for former CIA director David H. Petraeus. Although Kerry is thought to covet the job of secretary of state, senior administration officials familiar with the transition planning said that nomination will almost certainly go to Susan E. Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.”

In addition to his own service and post-Vietnam War vilification of the military, Kerry served Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs. Otherwise his main connection to the Pentagon has been to support the nuclear freeze during the Cold War, ditching missile defense, massive cuts in spending, and the surge in Iraq. Kerry’s concern for the military (aside from slashing its funding) centers on its social services (health care, housing). It is a bit odd to nominate a man who wholeheartedly supports defense cuts that the current secretary of Defense terms “devastating.” Well, CodePink will be thrilled.

As wrongheaded as many of his ideas may be, it is Kerry’s lack of familiarity with the ins and outs of the Defense department that would be the most troubling. Unlike Sens. Carl Levin (D- Mich.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.) or at least a dozen other Democratic lawmakers Kerry has never demonstrated any deep understanding of defense budgeting, military preparedness or defense modernization. As a former national security official put it, “It should be a serious job. And he knows zero about it. Nothing.”

If nominated and confirmed, he would face a lack of respect and confidence from the civilian and military personnel he would lead. He might start his confirmation hearing with an apology for these inane comments he made in 2006: “You know, education, if you make the most of it, if you study hard and you do your homework, and you make an effort to be smart, uh, you, you can do well. If you don’t, you get stuck in Iraq.”

Nevertheless, expect him to slide right in. Republicans have neither the will nor ability to deny him “Senatorial courtesy.” (Some may be delighted to get him out of the Senate.) The good news is Sen. Scott Brown would have an open seat to seek in a Massachusetts version of Groundhog Day.

As for Rice, good luck with that one. She may get through, but not without a full vetting of the entire Benghazi mess, her own dissembling, the White House misstatements, and the conflict between her views and that of the State Department permanent staff (which in a briefing asserted that no one in the building in Foggy Bottom ever bought into the video-made-them-do-it theory). The president should get her at State if that’s what he wants (anyone else would be just as bad), but Republicans should seize the opportunity to force some candor about the Libya debacle.

For those middle-of-the-road Democrats who were certain Obama’s true moderate views would surface in the second term, the Kerry-Rice line-up may come as a surprise. For conservatives it is par for the course.

By  |  09:47 AM ET, 11/13/2012

 
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