The new defense secretary — We deserve better
March 01, 2013 12:00 AM | 2749 views | 4 4 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Generally, after a hard-fought Senate confirmation vote to a top administration post, there’s an all-around shaking of hands, backslapping reassurances that none of the criticism was personal and pledges of varying sincerity to work together for the good of the country.

Instead, Chuck Hagel becomes secretary of defense with a sizable number of his former fellow Republican senators waiting for him to slip up and fail. Little surprise there.

John Cornyn of Texas, the Senate’s second-ranking Republican, offered this less-than-confidence-building judgment: “He will take office with the weakest support of any defense secretary in modern history, which will make him less effective in his job.”

Actually, it’s worse. Hagel was confirmed Tuesday — after protracted and acrimonious debate and an attempted filibuster — by a 58-41 vote, the smallest margin since the defense-secretary post was created more than 60 years ago. Only four Republicans voted for Hagel, a onetime two-term GOP senator from Nebraska. Neither of Georgia’s senators, Johnny Isakson (R-east Cobb) or Saxby Chambliss (R-Moultrie) voted for Hagel.

It didn’t help Hagel’s candidacy that he was sharply criticized by many Jewish groups for his lackluster support for Israel in the past. It also did not help that he was publicly endorsed as the best candidate for the job by Iranian Premier Mahmud Ahmadinejad.

An early priority for Hagel will be building strong relations with the House and Senate armed services committees. It will be an uphill task with the Senate, whose committee has two of his most severe critics: John McCain of Arizona and James Inhofe of Oklahoma.

Of course, Hagel can silence critics by successfully rising to the many challenges of his job. He won’t have to wait long for that opportunity. Today he faces his first crisis: He must somehow come up with $46 billion in spending cuts, about 9 percent of the Pentagon budget, compressed into the seven months between now and the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30.

And this is after three months in which the Pentagon’s top brass and outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta have been telling anyone on Capitol Hill who’ll listen that the cuts will leave the country with a “hollowed out” military because of cutbacks in training, maintenance and procurement and the furloughs of civilian personnel.

Of course, this gets us to another of President Obama’s main reasons for nominating Hagel in the first place: his party affiliation. He’s a Republican. Thus, as the axe inexorably falls on Pentagon spending in the sequestration process, and/or in Obama’s inevitable Defense drawdown, he will be able to point at Hagel and describe the cuts as “bipartisan” because they “have the support of the secretary of defense, who’s a Republican.”

That’s how the game is played in D.C.

The country deserves better.
Comments-icon Post a Comment
Rick G
March 28, 2013
Not a very popular editorial, I see, and for good reason: it was a a simple case of water-carrying for the Republican Senate. That Isakson and Chambliss were against him is not exactly news which would impress me. The blurb was an extremely juvenile point of view, not worthy of even the MDJ.
March 04, 2013
Journalism 101 could not ahve been THAT long ago could it? When you say we deserve better, you should probably at least list JUST ONE THING allegedly wrong with the guy.

All you got here is "we heard so and so doesn't like him"

The Republicans have come to this? High school cheeleading?

B D Lane
March 01, 2013
I agree.
Scott A
March 02, 2013
Republican Chuck Hagel is perfectly suited to be Defense Secretary, just as John McCain claimed as a presidential candidate running against Obama (in a classic "I was for him, before I was against him" style move, much as the Conservatives decried Kerry for as a presidential candidate against the war in Iraq, but somehow now love him as Sec State). Like it or not, it is a bipartisan pick and saying it isn't, doesn't make it so. Obama is again, more politically astute than the Conservative establishment who seem to try to govern not by actually doing what they say they will, but by trying to redefine reality into something they want it to be. Hate Kerry now love Kerry, Love Hagel, now hate Hagel, Conservative situational politics at its best.
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