Chuck Hagel: Would it be a mistake for Obama to name another Republican defense secretary?

Harold Maass
The Week
Barack Obama and Chuck Hagel in Amman, Jordan, in 2008. The pair, along with Democrat Jack Reed, traveled together on a tour of the Middle East and Europe.

The centrist former Republican senator from Nebraska is reportedly the frontrunner to replace Leon Panetta

President Obama is likely to pick former Republican senator Chuck Hagel to be his next defense secretary, several news outlets reported Thursday. The nomination could come as soon as this month, as the current Pentagon chief, Leon Panetta, 74, prepares to return to private life in Obama's second term. Hagel, like Obama, was a critic of the war in Iraq, and he is the co-chair of the president's Intelligence Advisory Board. There are still other contenders, including former defense undersecretary Michele Flournoy, but one Democrat says Hagel's appointment is "almost a done deal." Hagel, a Nebraskan who was wounded twice as an Army infantryman in Vietnam, would be Obama's second GOP defense secretary — when Obama took office, he kept on Bob Gates, who served in the role under George W. Bush. Is putting another Republican in charge of the Pentagon a smart move?

Yes. It shows he's open to bipartisanship: Obama can't lose by appointing Hagel, says Stephen M. Walt at Foreign Policy. Like Gates, he's a moderate Republican realist — he's "a staunch advocate of a strong defense," yet opposed to squandering our resources and prestige "on misbegotten crusades." Nominating a well-known Republican demonstrates Obama's commitment to bipartisanship. If GOP senators try to torpedo his confirmation, they'll show "how petty, extreme, and out of touch they are."
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Choosing a Republican sends the wrong message: "Democratic presidents should stop buying into the Republican propaganda that Democrats can't be trusted with national defense," says blogger Meteor Blades at Daily Kos. Republicans have held the top Pentagon job for 51 of the last 65 years. Every Democrat except Jimmy Carter has had at least one GOP defense chief; not one GOP president has appointed a Dem to the job. Obama should pick one of the many choices from his own party to run the Pentagon.
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Neither side wins or loses politically: Hagel is "known chiefly for harshly criticizing other Republicans, especially on Iraq," says Allahpundit at Hot Air. Still, some Democrats who are up for re-election might find "his past criticism of Israel" to be a burden. Still, he should sail to confirmation — "the Senate tends to go easy on its alums." And, honestly, it won't make much difference politically. "Who cares whether it's an R or D at Defense if it's O in the White House?"
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