Let a Democrat Run the Pentagon

If I remember correctly, the Obama administration waited about seven nanoseconds after the 2012 exit polls were released on Election Day to announce the resignation of CIA director David Petraeus. Once they knew they had won, they threw Petraeus under the bus immediately. Now, with no more election days to worry about, the administration was only modestly more deliberative in cashiering Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. They also made sure to shovel plenty of dirt on top of him while they were at it.

Whatever the case, Mr. Hagel struggled to fit in with Mr. Obama’s close circle and was viewed as never gaining traction in the administration after a bruising confirmation fight among his old Senate colleagues, during which he was criticized for seeming tentative in his responses to sharp questions…

…In Mr. Hagel’s less than two years on the job, his detractors said he struggled to inspire confidence at the Pentagon in the manner of his predecessors, especially Robert M. Gates…

…Mr. Hagel has often had problems articulating his thoughts — or administration policy — in an effective manner, and has sometimes left reporters struggling to describe what he has said in news conferences. In his side-by-side appearances with both General Dempsey and Secretary of State John Kerry, Mr. Hagel, a decorated Vietnam veteran and the first former enlisted combat soldier to be defense secretary, has often been upstaged.

He raised the ire of the White House in August as the administration was ramping up its strategy to fight the Islamic State, directly contradicting the president, who months before had likened the Sunni militant group to a junior varsity basketball squad.

There has been a tendency under recent Democratic presidencies to hire Republicans to run the Pentagon and some of the higher profile intelligence organizations. I’m thinking of folks like James Woolsey, Bill Cohen, Robert Gates, David Petraeus and, of course, Chuck Hagel. With the exception of Cohen, this habit has consistently ended in grief. Gates served President Obama capably at a difficult time, but couldn’t resist trashing the administration once he retired. The others were either disloyal, incompetent, or both.

There’s nothing in the Republicans’ recent history to recommend them as superior on national security, and plenty that argues otherwise. When the people vote for a Democratic president, they have the right to expect Democrats to run our national security apparatus. For many, this is the main and most important distinction between the two parties.

I hope that we see less of these stupid efforts at building bipartisan support for foreign policy in the future. The way the Republicans handled Hagel’s confirmation hearings should have put an end to this habit, and Hagel’s actual performance should end all debate.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.