John McCain will make one of his many appearances on the Sunday talk show circuit this weekend, no doubt telling us once again how dreadful a choice Susan Rice would be as secretary of state. She is not yet a choice that President Obama has made although all the connected people in Washington believe she's at the top of his list.
But while the media remain focused on the twisted mutterings of McCain and a handful of other senators about Rice's supposed misbehavior in the aftermath of the Benghazi attack and her unsuitability for the secretary's post, other people are being vetted behind the scenes for various high posts in Barack Obama's second term administration. One of these, according to The Cable at Foreign Policy, is Chuck Hagel. The former Nebraska senator 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. One post Hagel is probably being considered for, if he actually is being considered, is one that he has previously been short-listed for: secretary of defense.
The Associated Press is also reporting late Friday that Hagel is a likely candidate for the defense post. And that the decision could be announced in December.
If there has to be a Republican in the highest reaches of foreign policy matters in the administration's second term, Hagel would certainly be a reasonable choice.
But not as secretary of defense.
That job is now held by Leon Panetta, the centrist Democrat who has given no indication that he is leaving any time soon. Although he'd like to get back to California, he says in public that he still has work to do in Washington: Afghanistan. The Pentagon budget. Force adjustments.
Remarkably, he is only the seventh Democrat to hold the job since it was created to replace secretary of war 65 years ago. All told, 16 Republicans have served for nearly 51 years in that job, while Democrats have served for only 13, with the avidly nonpartisan George C. Marshall in charge for one. No Republican has ever appointed a Democrat to the post. Every Democratic president save Jimmy Carter has appointed a Republican as secretary for at least one term of his presidency.
Why? Apparently because even Democratic presidents have bought into the Republican propaganda that you can't trust Democrats when it comes to the nation's defense. Remind me again about how well that Bob McNamara thing worked out?
As Ilan Goldenberg wrote in March 2008:
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.
That still holds true.
James V. Forrestal: Democrat (1947-1949)
Louis A. Johnson: Democrat (1949-1950)
George C. Marshall: Independent (1950-51)
Robert A. Lovett: Republican (1951-1953)
Charles E. Wilson: Republican (1953-57)
Neil H. McElroy: Republican (1953-59)
Thomas S. Gates: Republican (1959-61)
Robert S. McNamara: Republican (1961-1968)
Clark M. Clifford: Democrat (1968-1969)
Melvin R. Laird: Republican (1969-1973)
Elliot L. Richardson: Republican (1973)
James R. Schlesinger: Republican (1973-1975)
Donald H. Rumsfeld: Republican (1975-1977)
Harold Brown: Democrat (1977-1981)
Caspar W. Weinberger: Republican (1981-1987)
Frank C. Carlucci: Republican (1987-1989)
Richard B. Cheney: Republican (1989-1993)
Les Aspin: Democrat (1993-1994)
William J. Perry: Democrat (1994-1997)
William S. Cohen: Republican (1997-2001)
Donald H. Rumsfeld: Republican (2001-2006)
Robert Gates: Republican (2009-2011)
Robert Gates: Republican (2009-2011)
Leon Panetta: Democrat (2011-Present)
It's past time for Democrats to always choose their own for this post. Not just any Democrat, of course. But there are plenty of ability to do the job.
Unlike John McCain for quite some time now, "maverick" is a term that actually applies to Chuck Hagel when it comes to matters of national security. Although he voted for the Iraq War in 2002 (as did a narrow majority of Senate Democrats), he later became a sharp critic of it and other elements of George Bush's foreign policy, shifting his voting record from 96 percent in line with Republicans in Bush's first term to 72 percent in his second. He has also been highly critical of some other Republican policies and the party's takeover by extremists. His views have gotten him called a RINO more than once. If there has to be a Republican in the highest reaches of Obama's administration for the next four years, Hagel would be a reasonable choice.
Steve Clemons, now at The Atlantic, told Josh Rogin:
"Hagel hides his keen understanding of complex strategic realities beneath an every-guy, aw-shucks veneer. He is one of the shrewdest, most well-informed, experienced national security hands who has served as a major force in GOP land in the legislative branch," Clemons said. "Hagel has been feeding tough-love messages to Obama for some time on the Middle East, on Russia, on China, on the design and missions of the armed forces and the intelligence ecosystem surrounding them."
All well and good. But for all his experience and shrewdness and willingness to butt heads with his own party, let's not be fooled by who Chuck Hagel really is.
His overall Senate voting record is anti-labor, anti-environment, anti-choice, anti-gay. Outside the foreign policy realm in Bush's second term, he mostly toed the Cheney-Bush line, something that can hardly be something ascribed to youthful indiscretion.
But if he is being considered, and there's every reason to believe he is, there is an empty space right now in Washington that would fit Hagel's skills and interests without giving him a Cabinet post: director of the CIA.