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Hagel’s prospects may be fading

Michael Hirsh of the National Journal reports that the White House is having second thoughts about nominating Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense:

Besieged by criticism from right and left, and considerable skepticism from his former Senate colleagues, Chuck Hagel appears to be following the path of Susan Rice as a trial-balloon nominee who finds himself quickly losing altitude in Washington. And as happened with Rice, the White House is now signaling that it may soon puncture Hagel’s hopes.

Just as occurred with Rice, the U.N. ambassador whose prospective nomination as secretary of State—leaked to the media—flamed out in the face of widespread criticism of her, President Obama appears to be rethinking his choice for Defense secretary.

A senior administration official told National Journal on Sunday that it was “fair” to say Obama is considering candidates other than Hagel for Defense secretary, in particular Michele Flournoy, who was under secretary of Defense for policy in Obama’s first term, and Ashton Carter, the current deputy Defense secretary. Only a week ago, Bloomberg News reported that Hagel was Obama’s top choice.

Hirsh attributes Hagel’s problems to “his bluntness and bravery in advocating unpopular positions during his 12 years in the Senate,” including his “gutsy and prescient stand against his own party and President George W. Bush in the run-up to the Iraq invasion—and his criticism of the war’s management afterwards.” But Hagel was not sufficiently “gutsy” or “prescient” to vote against invading Iraq. And Hagel wouldn’t be on President Obama’s radar screen absent Hagel’s criticism of the war.

Hagel’s problem isn’t that he’s gutsy or prescient. It’s that his positions on key issues such as Iran, Israel, sequestration, and gay rights fall, in the words of Lindsey Graham, “out of the mainstream” and, in some cases, “well to the left of the president.”

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