President Barack Obama’s hometown newspaper has come out opposing the president’s nomination of former Sen. Chuck Hagel to become the next defense secretary. In its editorial, the Chicago Tribune accuses the president of nominating a yes man.
One of the smarter moves Barack Obama made after his election in 2008 was to ask Robert Gates, a holdover from the Bush administration, to stay as secretary of defense. Gates had the respect of Republicans and Democrats. He owed nothing to Obama and was likely to tell the new president what he needed to hear, not what he wanted to hear. Gates understood his role, gave his best advice and carried out the ultimate decisions of the commander in chief.
Gates’ successor, Democrat Leon Panetta, enjoyed similar respect across parties. Panetta spoke frankly and publicly about what levels of spending cuts the military could and could not tolerate.
“Hagel’s stated positions on critical issues, ranging from defense spending to Iran, fall well to the left of those pursued by Mr. Obama during his first term — and place him near the fringe of the Senate that would be asked to confirm him.” That’s not some neoconservative’s assessment. That’s the assessment of The Washington Post editorial page.
In assembling his second-term team President Obama seems to be seeking, first and foremost, a high comfort level for himself. For the good of the nation he should craft — if not a team of rivals — a team that will challenge him. Come the confirmation hearings, the Senate will have sound reason to challenge Chuck Hagel.