Barack Obama doesn't like Republicans much, which is fine. I don't like Obama much either. As mentioned here, Obama doesn't want to work with the GOP, he wants to break the GOP. We also know that Obama wants to make significant cuts in defense spending. For a conformist and uncourageous Democrat like Obama, there aren't any acceptable places to cut spending except for defense. Considering this, his choice of Hagel is expressly political. As David Brooks noted:
Chuck Hagel has been nominated to supervise the beginning of this generation-long process of defense cutbacks. If a Democratic president is going to slash defense, he probably wants a Republican at the Pentagon to give him political cover, and he probably wants a decorated war hero to boot.
Obama wants to slash defense spending and he wants a Republican to preside over the slashing. Although Hagel's positions on foreign policy are not terribly different from Obama's, his choice could not be more political. The thing is, there are plenty of others in the field in his own party who are more qualified than Hagel to run a massive military bureaucracy. And Hagel's foreign policy views do matter:
Savor that, "As head of the Pentagon, Hagel would not determine foreign policy." No, he would not. But he would have substantial control over the information, advice, and policy options available to the person who does determine foreign policy.
Suppose a president were to request an assessment of a hypothetical strike on Iran. Suppose the secretary of defense delivers to him a plan requiring the insertion of US ground forces into Iranian cities to be sure of destroying relevant facilities. That "plan" is as much a veto of a strike as any decision.
Donald Rumsfeld enabled the Iraq war by producing estimates it could be won with as few as 135,000 troops. Had he instead on 300,000, the war would not have occurred: it would have seemed too heavy a lift. (As indeed it proved.)
A Secretary Hagel could similarly thwart policies he disapproved of by magnifying their cost and difficulty. That's why his views matter, and that's why it's so disingenuous to claim they do not.
The Iranian mullahs say, "Two thumbs up!" Obama's keeping Robert Gates as SecDef was both bipartisan and smart, but the choice of Hagel is neither. If Obama wants to put an axe to defense spending, fine, then he should do it with a SecDef from his own party. This petty and vindictive pick will only further ensure that the president will get nothing of import done in his second term. Will it break the GOP per Obama's objective? If Hagel gets filibustered, no. If he gets confirmed, maybe or maybe not. Do I support Hagel as SecDef? No, because the politics behind the pick stinks.
UPDATE: Here's another reason for Obama picking a Republican SecDef for political cover.
The Obama administration does not rule out a complete withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan after 2014, the White House said on Tuesday, just days before President Barack Obama is due to meet Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
Of course, this could be a case of Obama creating leverage in his upcoming talks with Karzai. Or not. The numbers after 2014 were 10,000 to 30,000, then revised downward to as low as 2,500, and now to as low as zero.
Oh, and I didn't make a case against Hagel on the issues here and because I already did it there. There is a conservative and liberal argument against Hagel on the issues. My apologies for thinking that liberals read and remember my recent diaries.