The woeful Hagel nomination brings back memories of the 1936 appointment of the “entirely unsuited” (Richard Langworth’s phrase) Sir Thomas Inskip to be the Minister for the Coordination of Defense in the British government—a post that everyone thought Churchill should fill. William Manchester pointed out that “a search of The Times files reveals that his only notable public effort had been a successful campaign to suppress revisions of the Anglican prayer book. . . Fleet Street and Parliament were incredulous.” Churchill’s friend Prof. Eric Lindemann called Inskip’s appointment “the most cynical thing that has been done since Caligula appointed his horse consul.” Harold MacMillan said that Inskip lacked “the slightest glimmer of that ruthless determination, by which alone such an office could have been made effective at such a time.” The appointment occurred shortly after Hitler began remilitarizing the Rhineland.
It would seem Obama has found in Hagel his own version of Inskip to help him deliver peace in our time. Similar to Hagel, the design of the Inskip appointment seemed to be intended to degrade and delay defense preparations while pretending to do the opposite. There’s been lots of commentary about how Obama chose the Inskipian Hagel because he wants GOP fingerprints on a contraction of the defense budget and an American withdrawal from the world stage. Churchill’s public comments about Inskip were slightly muted at the time for various reasons, but included this analysis, which, adapted slightly to our context, applies fairly well to what Obama is up to with Hagel:
He [Inskip] has an office so absurdly constructed that the very conditions of his commission reveal a confusion of mind and a lack of comprehension in those who have defined it. He has allowed himself to become the innocent victim of responsibilities so strangely, so inharmoniously, so perversely grouped, endowed with powers so crabbed and restricted, that no one, not even Napoleon himself, would be able to discharge them with satisfaction.