Is Hagel Smart Enough for the Job?

The vexing question about Obama’s nominee for Defense Secretary is one that dares not speak its name directly: Does he have the intellect to manage a complex, critical enterprise in a time of change?

As John McCain and others attack while bipartisan figures from the past endorse him, Chuck Hagel calls to mind JFK’s dictum, “You can’t beat brains,” along with David Halberstam’s classic “The Best and the Brightest,” the story of how brilliant Defense Secretary Robert McNamara led a coterie of Ivy League high IQs into bungling the Vietnam war, in which Hagel served as a twice-wounded enlisted man.

For his early opposition to the Iraq invasion, the nominee earns high points, and it’s hard to doubt the personal qualities of one who has earned the scorn of fellow Republicans for being right about that disastrous chapter. But does he qualify to oversee a crucial organization?

With the departure of Hillary Clinton and Leon Panetta, the braininess level of the Obama administration has gone down. John Kerry is bright enough, but those who recall what Karl Rove et al did to him in 2004 would not credit him with political genius. What the President needs in his second term is a cadre of key advisers who won’t bungle him into extraneous side issues. How do Kerry and Hagel rate on that score?


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Author: ROBERT STEIN

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6 Comments

  1. Yep.

  2. It’s a concern. Being on the right side of history, and the President, is great but his job is going to be to trimming the fat from the Pentagon. One would hope it to be done with a scalpel rather than an ax. Mr. Hagel gives the impression of being a blunt instrument.

    We need more information on how he handled himself when he was in the senate other than being an outspoken critic of intervention in Iraq. No one should be judged on one day’s being subjected to the neo-cons’ vitriol, but it is unsettling to see that his inability to handle a few senators now, without appearing abjectly apologetic about previous politial positions, even those that he probably still, and should, have doesn’t convince me that he can handle them when he goes to them for cuts later on.

  3. No one who isn’t in DC can claim to know how Hagel works behind closed doors. Frankly the fact he made the right call on Iraq, and his way of selling his points with reason, leads me to believe we need more men like him in high ranking posts. Also, the fact that the Usual Suspects in the GOP seem to be worked into a lather about his nomination is an indicator to me that he is qualified. Know a man by his enemies.

  4. He does have some nice boosters in former Secs.

  5. The way Hagel was hounded by Senator McCain merely because he failed to support the surge, was upsetting. Apparently to quality for a cabinet post, we now expect candidates to have flawless records and always choose correctly on any matters of military import or foreign policy. Is McCain so vain as to pretend that he has never made the wrong choice? And, can’t we allow someone like Hagel the dignity of being able to explain why he chose as he did?

    It seems obvious that, having the guts to oppose the Iraq war at a time when almost everyone else was jumping on the bandwagon, should be seen as positive trait, displaying the true character of the man. McCain must also know, that after serving in Viet Nam as he also did, this experience affords one an important perspective about just how much the soldier on the ground has to endure.

    The surge represented the only time that Bush actually agreed to deviate from his rigid standard policy, and, as luck, or wisdom might have it, it was a success. Still McCain should understand that Hagel’s hesitancy to put more of our soldiers in harms way, reflected on his honest concerns for our troops.

    I would rather support an official that thought things through, even if, his decisions were later determined as being in error, than support a gungho war hawk, ignorant of what it means to risk one’s life in real combat situations!

    Sometimes being wrong is excusable when the decision was made with honest deliberation and personal conscience!

  6. Petew,

    See my comment on this in another thread.

    Hagel was not wrong on the surge, just as he was not wrong on the war.

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