In addition to Chuck Hagel’s noxious comments on Jews, his policy differences with the president, his anti-gay rhetoric and his lack of executive experience, there is another very good reason for dumping him: There are much better candidates whom the president could select.
Ash Carter is the deputy defense secretary for acquisition, which is a hot spot in any effort to reform and tighten Pentagon spending, something the president is plainly bent on doing. Unlike Hagel, he has years of Pentagon, executive experience. Moreover, he has been clear-eyed on threats from rogue nations like North Korea. While the Bush administration was dawdling in its second term, Carter and former defense secretary William J. Perry urged in the pages of The Post that “if North Korea persists in its launch preparations, the United States should immediately make clear its intention to strike and destroy the North Korean Taepodong missile before it can be launched.” (h/t Michael Goldfarb) It is inconceivable that Carter would not be promptly confirmed or that his addition to the Cabinet would not add some muscle to an administration that has too rarely backed up its rhetoric with action.
Then there is the much-discussed Michele Flournoy. In addition to being a glass-ceiling breaker and a dose of diversity in a Cabinet shaping up to be mostly male (especially in top spots), she would also bring executive skills as a former defense undersecretary. Eleanor Clift (no member of the right wing conspiracy) writes:
Her qualifications are impeccable. There are the requisite degrees from Harvard and Oxford, a stint at the Kennedy School and the Army War College. During the Clinton administration she worked at the Pentagon, tasked with developing and overseeing strategy and threat reduction. . . . Former State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley says Flournoy is “steeped in the challenges that we confront.” She served first under Defense Secretary Gates, and then under [Defense Secretary Leon] Panetta, “and has spent a great deal of time thinking how to deploy our military instruments economically and effectively.” With the war in Afghanistan winding down, and Obama shifting attention to Asia, the next defense secretary will face existential questions about the future direction of defense resources.
She has impressed conservative hawks with her work on Afghanistan (“Ms. Flournoy’s role was also important in improving the quality of Afghan forces, particularly in backing Gen. [William] Caldwell in the face of objections that training in civilian skills, such as basic literacy, wasn’t part of his mission. . . . [I]n defending their own country [the Afghans] are also helping us, because the U.S. has a vital stake in preventing the Taliban from returning to power. Ms. Flournoy grasped that central strategic point and pursued it with bureaucratic deftness, without seeking publicity for what she had done.”)
These are only two possible nominees. (Others might include West Point graduate Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and the Brookings Institution’s Michael O’Hanlon or Kenneth Pollack.) It is rather obvious that there are better prepared, more highly regarded and easily confirmable nominees than Hagel. Why the president still considers Hagel (or lets him twist in the win) remains a mystery.