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Chuck Hagel would be the 17th Republican to hold the secretary of defense post if President Obama nominates him. Only seven Democrats have served in that job in its 65-year history.
Two weeks ago, The Cable at Foreign Policy and the Associated Press said former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel was being vetted for a national security post in the Obama administration. The story, mostly downplayed at the time, is making a comeback today. Bloomberg reports:
Former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel has emerged as the leading candidate to become Obama’s next Secretary of Defense and may be nominated as soon as this month, according to two people familiar with the matter.
Hagel, who served as an enlisted Army infantryman in Vietnam, has passed the vetting process at the White House Counsel’s office, said one of the people. The former Nebraska senator has told associates that he is awaiting final word from the president, said the other person. Both requested anonymity to discuss personnel matters.
NBC's Chuck Todd tweets that the administration says it has made no final decision yet and that no nominations for the Cabinet will be announced this week.
Although Hagel was totally in the George Bush camp for that president's first term, he became more of a maverick after 2005, strongly criticizing the Iraq war he had voted for and challenging extremists in the Republican Party on some other issues as well. He is currently co-chairman of the President's Intelligence Advisory Board and, among other things, a board member of Chevron, the world's third largest oil company. He is seen as a moderate on foreign policy and has openly spoke disparagingly of neo-conservatives who rarely see a country they think the United States shouldn't invade.
But Hagel is a Republican. As I wrote last month, if he were chosen he would be the 17th Republican to hold the Defense secretary's position, as opposed to the seven Democrats who have served in the job in the 65 years since the position was created as a replacement for secretary of war. Republicans have held the position for 51 years, Democrats for only 13. Every Democratic president except Jimmy Carter has appointed a Republican to the defense post for at least part of his term(s) of office. No Republican president ever has ever appointed a Democrat.
As Ilan Goldenberg wrote in March 2008 when the possibility of Hagel getting that post was first being considered:
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.
Democratic presidents should stop buying into the Republican propaganda that Democrats can't be trusted with national defense. The president has many choices from his own party who would serve well in the job. He should pick one of them.