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March 25, 2008

Hagel as SecDef?
Posted by Shawn Brimley

Ilan had a great piece on the New Republic's site last week that is worthy of mention. He explores the idea of Senator Chuck Hagel as a potential Secretary of Defense in a Democratic administration. Key quote:

"Appointing a Republican as Secretary of Defense could send a message that Democrats are still too uncomfortable with the military to take on the responsibility of defending our country by themselves. Moreover, there's no reason not to appoint a Democrat. The party has a deep defense bench that includes military and defense advisors for the Obama and Clinton campaigns--many of whom have served in the Pentagon in previous administrations. Some of Chuck Hagel's congressional colleagues such as Senators Jim Webb or Jack Reed are just as qualified to be Secretary of Defense, and have the added benefit of being Democrats."

Totally agree. I think it would send a very positive message for a Democratic President to reach-out and appoint a Republican to the Cabinet, but not to the Pentagon. The Democratic Party is not the party of the 1970s, there are plenty of strong-defense Democrats who would be excellent leaders. During perhaps the most critical national security inheritance in decades, a possible Democratic administration needs to take ownership over the very difficult military issues that will be at play in 2009.

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I'm glad to hear you say this. Bush could've appointed a Democrat to HHS or Education, but he didn't, and that sent a message, that Republicans have ideas in these arenas and they're not going to outsource them to the other party.

If a Dem wants a Repub in the cabinet, fine, but not in any of the "big 4" positions.

Clinton did it with Cohen and while it wasn't a disaster it's not as if a Democrat couldn't have done as good a job or better.

Franklin Roosevelt also appointed Republicans to his Cabinet, as did Harry Truman and John Kennedy. Democrats do have limitations as far as the available talent in their party in the national security area, and exploiting divisions in the other party is always a good idea.

A second Clinton administration would centralize power in the White House, as the current administration does, making Cabinet positions less significant; Republicans could expect no prominent appointments and supporters of Obama couldn't expect too many, either. In an Obama administration, though, Justice would have to go to a Democrat given Obama's own background (he would clash with most Republicans, even those who dislike Bush) and with the economy in trouble Treasury would have to go to a Democrat as well. There would be Democrats lining up to be Secretary of State -- Biden, Richardson, or (if Obama wanted to reach out to Clinton's supporters), Holbrooke. That leaves Defense, the department that will have to be responsible for managing a withdrawal of forces from Iraq. Political prudence would suggest that this be a bipartisan enterprise. I hold no special brief for Hagel, but sending him to the Pentagon would give an Obama administration a wedge into the opposition as well as a Defense Secretary with a solid background.

Ilan Goldenberg's incompetent political analysis manages to overlook the most important, and also most obvious fact about the advent of an Obama Presidency. This is that the image of the Democratic Party would be tied to whether Obama was a success or a failure in the Oval Office. If he's a success, the Party's image on defense will be just fine even if he outrages dedicated partisans by putting a Republican in the Pentagon.

That argument goes a bit against the conventional wisdom but I think it's absolutely correct. A Republican SecDef might give a Democratic administration a small credibility boost but it ultimately undermines the credibility of the party.

If I were going to go for a Republican in the cabinet, I'd say maybe a mass-transit friendly infrastructure builder for Transportation or an anti-subsidy type for Agriculture. I don't think either of those are really big Democratic weak points and who knows, it might even help negotiations with Congress.

The new book by Senator Hagel, America: The Next Chapter is an engrossing read that doesn't pull any punches. He studies the issues that are most pressing and offers intelligent solutions to our future leaders who would do well to implement his suggestions. We ought to draft Chuck Hagel to be president and stop all of this partisan bickering. There's too much work to do.

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