SecDef or Not?

Hagel and McCain

Chuck Hagel's fate rests in John McCain's hands; how hard should Obama fight for him?

It seems that Chuck Hagel's fate is basically in John McCain's hands now. If McCain reverses field and decides that he won't oppose a filibuster of Hagel, then I think Obama is going to need to start looking for a new SecDef.

Tom Ricks, probably Washington's best journalist on defense issues, thinks it's 50-50 that Hagel withdraws. What? That's way out there from what most people think, but Ricks is worth listening to:

Hagel has the votes, but not much else. His big problem is that no one much wants him running the Pentagon. Congressional Republicans consider him a traitor. Congressional Democrats see him as anti-gay and anti-abortion, undercutting their support for him. And Northeastern Democrats (and some others) worry about his stance on Israel. Democratic support in the Senate appears more dutiful than passionate.

That said, I don't think that a Hagel exit would hurt President Obama much. SecDef nominees have blown up on the launch pad before: Remember John Tower (picked by the first President Bush) and Bobby Inman (picked by President Clinton to replace Les Aspin)? Interestingly, both were succeeded as nominees by men who went on to be very successful stewards of the military establishment: Dick Cheney and William Perry. Calling Michèle Flournoy?

That hearing last week was a horror show, no doubt about that. He was basically showing up for a job interview, and showing up unprepared. I wouldn't do that. You wouldn't do that. It actually did make me wonder whether he is up to the job.

It comes down to McCain. He and Hagel are old buddies, from back before Hagel said goodbye to all that. That means McCain has leverage, and people who have leverage can ask for things. I'm not sure what, in this case--some weapons program or ship program that we don't need. I'd probably rather have Flournoy, who seems to be very widely respected. I don't know a lot about her, but for a woman to have put herself in the position of possibly becoming a SecDef, well, that's pretty impressive. Here's a little bit from TNR's Molly Redden on how she got there.

Oh. InLightened: Thanks for your concern, if indeed that's what it was! Nope, still on staff. Just been under the weather this week, not at full speed. But I hasten to note that these one-a-day posts have been running 800, 900 words--and generating a lot of discussion. That's a fair day's work where I come from!