The PJ Tatler

Did Obama Miss An Opportunity In Not Picking Michele Flournoy?

After Chuck Hagel’s shockingly bad confirmation hearing last week, will Republicans filibuster the vote to confirm him as our next Secretary of State?  As Ed Morrissey wrote today on Hot Air, it’s unlikely – and John McCain said so.

“I do not believe that we should filibuster,” McCain told POLITICO. “To vote against is entirely the judgment of each individual senator, but a filibuster I think would be inappropriate.”

Asked if he would vote for cloture if a filibuster were mounted, McCain answered, “Yes.”

The White House and Democratic leadership are already confident that a solid majority exists for the Hagel to be confirmed on a simple majority vote. McCain’s opposition to a filibuster should make it easier to get the 60 votes needed to invoke cloture.

Republican Sens. Mike Johanns of Nebraska and Thad Cochran of Mississippi have already announced they would support Hagel, meaning that Democrats appear to have at least 57 senators ready to support his nomination if they can keep their caucus united.

So, Hagel will probably be confirmed, but not after a hearing that was, as Slate’s Dave Weigel aptly noted, a Fluster Chuck of epic proportions.  From flubbing his response on the surge to being unable to name one detrimental policy initiative advocated on behalf of the so-called “Jewish/Israel lobby,” the next Secretary of Defense looked amazingly unprepared.  Heck, he even admitted he wasn’t qualified for the job. Nevertheless, Morrissey noted former Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, Michele Flournoy, as being “more on the ball” on the dynamics of DoD than Hagel.

She wrote in The Wall Street Journal today that:

[U]nfortunately, the United States has an abysmal record of managing postwar drawdowns of defense spending. Almost all have resulted in a “hollow force”—too much force structure with too little investment in people, readiness and modernization.

Why? Because the easiest way to reduce Defense Department spending quickly is to enact across-the-board cuts in military end-strength, operations and maintenance, and procurement—solving the budget problem on the back of the force rather than on the department writ large.

In past drawdowns after World War II, Vietnam and the Cold War, American planners assumed a period of peace. But as the U.S. transitions in Afghanistan, no such calm appears on the horizon. From instability in the Middle East to al Qaeda’s resurgence in northern Africa, North Korea’s continued provocations and Iran’s dogged pursuit of nuclear weapons, the global security environment remains dangerous and volatile.

In this context, the U.S. must take care to preserve the military capabilities it needs to protect America’s interests now and in the future. The armed forces must retain the ability and agility to respond rapidly and effectively to a broad range of contingencies. Deep cuts to force structure, readiness and modernization should be the last resort, not the default course of action.

She also names a few areas where we can trim the fat in the Pentagon.

So where should policy makers reduce spending?

• First, eliminate unnecessary overhead in the Pentagon, defense agencies and headquarters staffs. Since 2001, these have grown like weeds. Over the past decade, the number of DOD civilians increased by more than 100,000, to roughly 778,000 in 2010, while the number of contractors also ballooned.


• Second, take steps to reduce the costs of military health care without sacrificing quality of care. The current trajectory of the Pentagon’s health-care spending is unsustainable. DOD’s medical costs have more than doubled since 2001, to more than 10% of the defense budget from roughly 6%, and they are growing faster than any other federal health-care program: 10.6% per year, compared with 9% for the Veterans Administration and 8.5% for Medicare. Overall, U.S. health-care costs are rising 6.3% per year.


• Third, cut excess infrastructure. Since the last Base Realignment and Closure Commission in the late 1990s, Congress has prevented the Defense Department from closing bases it no longer needs or consolidating infrastructure to better support evolving missions. This inability to shed or realign facilities hangs like an albatross around the department’s neck, consuming billions of dollars that could otherwise go to readiness and modernization. Congress should grant DOD’s request for another Base Realignment and Closure Commission round this year.

Yes, Flourney is a Democrat, but she obviously has a better understanding of our defense policy, which begs the question why didn’t Obama nominate her in the first place?  It’s not like he didn’t now her.  According to Karen DeYoung at the Washington Post, she was on his national security transition team, and “one of the most senior women civilians ever to serve at the Pentagon”   DeYoung, who wrote this piece in December of 2011, added that  Flournoy decided to step down to spend more time with her family, and assist in President Obama’s re-election campaign.

She’s not a Republican, but now it’s a question of who’s qualified – and Chuck Hagel is certainly not the one to replace Panetta.  Concerning Flournoy, she probably should have been picked.  There was plenty of media supporting her nomination here, here, and here.

Also, if she was asked, who would turn down the chance to serve the president, and be the first woman to head the Department of Defense?  Sure, it can be seen as pandering, but all levels of politics has that element.  While I might not agree with her on some areas of policy, Flournoy surely has the leadership capabilities,the institutional acumen, the respect of the military, and the ability to foster productive relationships needed to keep the Pentagon an effective slice of government.

Instead, Obama selected another Vietnam veteran, who is more or less, averse to interventionism, says silly things about Jewish people, and knows little about the department he’s been chosen to run.