You can sense both surprise and dread on behalf of Chuck Hagel supporters who were caught flat-footed by the outpouring of opposition to his potential selection as secretary of defense. In fact, there are (at least) six signs he is losing his perch as front-runner:
1. He has management issues, which are now coming to light. As David Ignatius writes (the brackets are mine), “Nobody who knows Hagel would describe him as a defense intellectual. [Ouch!] He’s more blunt than nuanced. How would he steer Pentagon procurement decisions in this age of new technologies and strategic matrices? I’m not sure. [How can the president be sure either?] How would he manage the chiefs in their knife fights over the budget? Again, I’m not sure. In terms of pure experience and expertise in managing the Pentagon, the best choice might be John Hamre, who served as Pentagon comptroller and deputy secretary under President Bill Clinton . . .” Moreover, those who know Hagel best on the Hill are beginning to chatter about his lack of tact and executive leadership skills. Another lawmaker with zero executive experience, the late Rep. Les Aspin (D-Wis.) (who actually was a smart guy on defense), fared very poorly as defense chief.
2. Democratic operatives are speaking up. Karen Finney, an MSNBC regular and former campaign operative, had this take: “I think naming two white men in the same week when you saw an African-American woman who is well-qualified, overly-qualified, get treated that way and in a cabinet that, let’s face it, could use a little more diversity anyway, probably not a smart strategic decision.”
3. They trotted out Richard Armitage to defend him. No, really. The same person who dishonorably leaked Valerie Plame’s name to the media, remained quiet and then inexcusably allowed Scooter Libby to be caught up in the prosecutorial net is the best character witness they can come up with? Yikes. Where are the big-name defenders for Hagel? Birds chirping. . . (Colin Powell may get dragooned into defending him, but it’s noteworthy that his former underling Armitage was thrown out first in hopes that would stem the wave of opposition.)
4. The pro-Hagel talking points look like C- undergraduate student work. In trying to bolster Hagel’s credentials, a circulating memo from his supporters incorrectly makes Salam Fayyed out to be a Fatah prime minister. In fact, although serving in the Palestinian Authority government, he has never been a Fatah lackey and ran against Fatah members. In the words of an old Middle East hand, the authority “hates him.” His separation from Fatah has been an important factor that has added to his reputation as an independent corruption fighter.
Moreover, the Hagel shills defended Hagel’s vote in 2007 against identifying the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps as a terrorist organization, claiming it was useless. They argue Hagel was actually concerned about some plot (again with the plots?) to use the resolution to start a war against Iran. They neglect to mention that among the 76 senators who voted yes were Sens. Hillary Clinton and Harry Reid. At the time then-Sen. Clinton said it “gives us the options to be able to impose sanctions on the primary leaders to try to begin to put some teeth into all this talk about dealing with Iran.” If this reflects the sort of counsel Hagel receives, it is reason enough to doubt his judgment and experience. There is no attempt to address the “Jewish lobby” or other comments raised by critics.
5. His inexplicable refusal to publicly urge an end to anti-Semitism in Russia. His refusal to sign a letter that all 99 of his colleagues signed to urge Russian leader Boris Yeltsin to clamp down on rising anti-Semitism puts him in Rep. Ron Paul territory, well out of the mainstream. This had nothing to do with Israel; it had to do with public disapproval of rampant Jew-hating in Russia.
6. Democrats are hiding. Well-known pro-Israel Democrats are refusing to speak up. Sens. Chuck Schumer, Robert Menendez and Kirsten Gillibrand are among those who have repeatedly declined to respond to requests for comment on Hagel. The prospect of a hearing in which Republican after Republican grills Hagel and Democrats either don’t appear or are mum cannot be an enticing one for the president. (The really cynical may suggest GOP senators are saying they “withhold judgment” but have no intention of voting for him and instead relish the opportunity to embarrass both the president and the Democratic senators.)