Chuck Hagel, John Kerry: Is Obama Too Reliant on Senate Talent?


I've reached out to a wide range of policy experts, pundits, and government officials (current and former) to share their thoughts on Senator Chuck Hagel's potential nomination as Secretary of Defense. I should note that my Atlantic Media colleague Michael Hirsh has published a powerful piece at National Journal indicating that the White House is considering a number of candidates, and not just Hagel. 

I think that the discussion about Hagel is important and a learning moment about national security strategy, about the future of the Pentagon and the kinds of wars we have been engaged in abroad, and about the nomination process itself run out of the White House.


Tom Ricks, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who has worked for both the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal and who has written some of the best accounts of America's command leadership in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars also serves as Senior Fellow at the Center for a New American Security and Contributing Editor at Foreign Policy. He also writes the blog, Best Defense

Ricks shared the following thoughts on Hagel in response to questions I posed:

Clemons:  Can you share your thoughts on the strengths and/or weaknesses that Senator Hagel might bring to the position of Secretary of Defense?
Ricks:  I cannot remember another modern administration that pulled almost all its top national security officials from the Congress. Right now we have former members of Congress as the secretary of defense, secretary of state, president, and vice president. They are advised by a national security advisor and deputy national security advisor with backgrounds as Capitol Hill staffers. And now the president is said to be considering replacing the current people at State and Defense with two other senators -- John Kerry and Chuck Hagel.
Wait a minute. I thought diversity was a good thing! How about some people with backgrounds in academia (such as William Perry, who was a fine secretary of defense, or George Shultz), corporate America (such as David Packard), Wall Street (see Robert Lovett), the law (Edwin Stanton, Henry Stimson, Caspar Weinberger), career-track federal service (Robert Gates), or the military (George Marshall or Colin Powell)? How about people who have actually run something (members of Congress don't run anything but their offices).
President Obama's nightmare is said to be following in the tracks of LBJ -- that is, having a great domestic agenda undercut by backing into war. But he might pay more attention to JFK, who had a narrow team of advisors who thought they were smarter than everyone else. I think Obama is unnecessarily creating a vulnerability -- that is, why voluntarily wear blinders by getting people largely experienced in one relatively small aspect of the world? There is a reason that diversity is not just right but also smart practice. You'd think Obama would understand that.

It is interesting that if Hagel was nominated, President Obama would have three of his Senate Foreign Relations Committee colleagues close at hand -- Joe Biden, John Kerry and Chuck Hagel. Fascinating comment from Tom Ricks. More to come.

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Steve Clemons is Washington editor at large for The Atlantic and editor of Atlantic Live. He writes frequently about politics and foreign affairs. More

Clemons is a senior fellow and the founder of the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation, a centrist think tank in Washington, D.C., where he previously served as executive vice president. He writes and speaks frequently about the D.C. political scene, foreign policy, and national security issues, as well as domestic and global economic-policy challenges.

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