You can already hear the president’s campaign-style speeches to the nation, coming to a TV near you very soon: “Let’s be clear: No one wants a weakened military, certainly not the commander in chief. But my secretary of defense, a conservative Republican and a Vietnam veteran mind you, agrees that there is plenty of room to in the military budget to save money. We aren’t going to balance the budget on the backs of the poor and elderly alone. The Republicans in Congress need to face up to this reality. We have to have a balanced approach. Everything must be on the table, including defense.”
Bill Burton, a former White House deputy press secretary, admitted that a main appeal of placing Hagel at defense is that he can help make the budget cuts more palatable.
“This is a guy who’s a decorated veteran, and when you’ve got a period of time when you’re going to have to make huge cuts to the Pentagon, he’s the sort of guy you want on your team doing it,” he told MSNBC.
President Obama’s current defense chief, Leon Panetta, disagrees with Hagel on defense cuts. He made clear in testimony that significant cuts to defense beyond what have already been enacted would be catastrophic to our military readiness. Other military leaders have concurred with Panetta’s stark assessment.
And indeed, you can argue that more steep cuts to our defense also sends a signal to Iran, as well as our other adversaries, of American weakness, which may also make a military confrontation more likely.
Ironically, Hagel, whose service in Vietnam has been rightly praised, is being sold to the public as a reluctant warrior. But he may be a reluctant warrior whose views make war more likely.
So, the operative question is: Can Hagel be stopped?
I think it is unlikely, unless game-changing information emerges that hasn’t yet been revealed, or unless there is a senator willing to filibuster his nomination. Theoretically, Hagel could also go off the deep end during his confirmation hearing, which will be must-see TV regardless.
Senators reasonably give deference to presidents on their cabinet nominees, and while there may be more “no” votes from Democrats and Republicans than usual on such a high ranking cabinet nominee, I suspect at the end of the day the president will get the votes he needs on Hagel.
Yes, the president will probably get his man, but that doesn’t mean he should be allowed to get his defense cuts.