Cabinet Rope-a-Dope?

Despite the late push Chuck Hagel is getting from the commentariat in his presumed aspirations to become Secretary of Defense, it remains entirely possible Obama will move in a different direction, naming former Undersecretary of Defense and frequent Obama foreign policy surrogate Michele Flournoy to run the Pentagon.

One reason for that scenario is that Republicans have committed heavily to an effort to block Hagel much as they did Susan Rice, in the process saying many nice things about Flournoy just as they did about John Kerry. In appraising a Flournoy appointment as a good idea substantively as well as politically, TNR’s Molly Redden does not directly suggest a deliberate Obama rope-a-dope strategy, but certainly supplies evidence it’s a possibility:

[H]ad Flournoy’s name been leaked as the potential secretary of defense nominee instead of Hagel’s, there’s no shortage of material the GOP could have drawn upon to slime her instead, and it’s hard to imagine why they wouldn’t have. There were her ardent defenses of Obama’s foreign policy during the campaign, and her unmasked distaste for Republicans’ politicization of the Benghazi attacks. Flournoy, says [Colin] Kahl, spearheaded the strategic implementation plan for Obama’s $400 billion in cuts to defense spending, which conservative think tanks and leaders—including the outfit where [Dan] Senor, who has trouble spelling Flournoy’s last name correctly, and [Bill] Kristol, who has trouble spelling her first name correctly, are board members—have roundly opposed.

The bottom line is that the Obama cabinet could soon include two nominees–Kerry and Flournoy–confirmed without a great deal of trouble who (a) would undoubtedly have aroused more controversy had their names been at the top of insiders’ “lists,” and (b) are very reliable proponents of just about every element of Obama’s foreign policy and national security policy. If it turns out that way, credit the White House for either a smart strategy, or for some unexpected good luck.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.