Rumor has it that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates will resign by the end of the year and that President Obama will nominate former Senator Chuck Hagel to replace him.
The idea that Gates will resign seems plausible enough, and it may be that Hagel will be tapped to replace him. However, nominating Hagel would be a departure from Obama’s usual approach to personnel issues thus far.
When it comes to important, high-level positions, Obama has generally selected either smart, highly capable people who share his ideology or, in a few instances, capable centrists (like Gates himself) who command wide respect. Joe Biden fits neither description, but the selection of a running mate is governed by its own special rules.
If I’m right about Obama’s practice, and if he adheres to it, then Hagel is an unlikely choice. Although he appears pretty much to share Obama’s ideology on matters relevant to the Secretary of Defense position, Hagel is neither highly capable nor particularly smart, at least not by the standards that should apply to that job.
At the same time, Hagel does not qualify as a capable centrist who commands wide respect. He’s not “middle of the road” on defense issues; instead he basically stands for “retreat everywhere,” as Bill Kristol has said. Nor does he command the kind of deep bipartisan respect that Gates and Gen. Jones do.
If Obama selects Hagel, it will signal an end to any pretense that he’s interested in a Lincolnesque “team of rivals.”
It will also be another sign of Obama’s antipathy towards Israel and, as Ed Lasky has argued, quite possibly more than just a symbolic problem for the Israelis.
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