Wednesday, January 09, 2013

A Schmear With Your Hagel?

OK, now that things have settled down a bit, I'm ready to take on what I think will be the key issue over the next few weeks: filling Obama's Cabinet.
John Kerry should be a slam-dunk for Secretary of State. Yes, the Swift Boaters are rearing their ugly heads again, but now that John Corsi has been not only thoroughly discredited with his treasonous slanders against President Obama, they will barely be a pebble under Kerry's halftrack.
Chuck Hagel should be a slamdunk for Secretary of Defense and I believe, despite the brouhaha being raised by the small-penis caucus, he will be. But let's take a closer look at this phenomenon and its evolution.
You may recall last month, current UN Ambassador Susan Rice's name was floated as a trial balloon to replace the outgoing Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. A ruckus was raised over some authorized and accurate comments she made (on Sunday morning talk shows, no less, and not under oath) with respect to the Benghazi assault in Libya that later turned out to be less than the truth.
Mind you, they turned out to be less than the truth because no one knew the whole truth and those who suspected it were not prepared to make public accusations in the midst of a delicate diplomatic moment. That's the basic scenario as it played out.
She withdrew her name from consideration (possibly under some pressure from President Obama. I'll speculate on this in a moment.) after it became "clear" that the entire incident would be a disruption. I take her at her word on this excuse, but I sense something deeper going on.
I'm sure that Rice discussed the whole ginned-up poutrage on the right with the President before withdrawing her name. His lack of anger and frustration in the aftermath speaks to that, and also speaks to something else: foreknowledge. As if there had been a plan in place all along.
Not that Rice wasn't his first choice, let me make this clear. I believe she was, but her clumsy appearances on those talk shows were not helpful in advancing American diplomacy or foreign policy. My suspicion is, she wasn't hung up on Bnghazi. She was trotted out to Meet The Press and whatever to gauge her ability to speak the party line without mangling the message.
THAT'S the most important skill a Secretary of State must have and on that basis, Rice was not a good choice. The message was mangled (which really was "We know who did it, we're just not prepared to say, so we're going to say it without saying it.") Her presentation made it appear that American intelligence was woefully shoddy.
Much as another Secretary Rice appeared, many years ago.
President Obama has shown an innate if not intuitive understanding of the political climate of the moment. He may not show it, and he's frustratingly slow in moving his pieces around the chessboard, but he understands events.
So his choice after Rice of Kerry forced the hands of Republican Senators. He literally is about the least likely to be filibustered of anyone out there, and so forces Republicans to look to other battles in their efforts to frustrate President Obama in his second term.
Again, I do not think Hagel will withdraw or otherwise not serve as Secretary of Defense. It's too critical a position for the Republicans to do anything but rattle sabres and posture. Remember, for all the bluster, Republicans confirmed two liberal SCOTUS Justices in Obama's first term, a high profile process that they could easily have embarrassed the President in.
The case against Hagel involves his position on two key foreign policy stances.
Wait. What? Secretary of Defense, right? Not state?
Exactly my reaction. The small-penis caucus is counting on the confusion.
By all accounts, Hagel would be the ideal man to run the Pentagon in a time of downsizing:
He would be the first Vietnam veteran to hold the job and the first noncommissioned officer, an Army sergeant grievously wounded in combat. His blue collar grunt experience would be particularly valuable as we reduce our forces and return our troops to civilian society.
Yet, here we are, worrying about comments he has made regarding Israel (his position mirrors every President since Johnson, including Dubya's) and Iran (he opposes unilateral military intervention.) In the latter, he mildly opposes President Obama's statement that all options are on the table.
But not vehemently. Avoiding war is not a bad thing for anyone to espouse.
Anyway, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) took umbrage and sent out their chief nutbag, William Kristol, to fire off a shot past Hagel's bow, while quietly working the phones to derail his nomination.
They can do this because, while they are Treasoners In Chief, putting Israel's foreign policy ahead of America's, they hold sway over significant blocs of...not votes, campaign funding. Primarily, this funding can help or harm candidates in sensitive districts nationwide.
As Joe Klein points out in his piece, this is the central foreign policy battle President Obama faces over his second term: what to do about Iran versus Israel?
Putting Hagel in charge of our troops is a lateral movement on his part to outflank AIPAC and others who believe that Israel not only has to be our primary focus (which I support) but that it has to be our only focus (which I do not.) By placing Kerry at State, Obama deflects much of the criticism that his administration is "the least friendly towards Israel ever."
That comment ignores the fact that President Reagan sold arms to the Ayatollahs, naturally.
Kerry can negotiate commitments with Israel, negotiate arms reduction with Iran, and Hagel can holds the reins to any weapons we might place in the region.
When you come down to it, its a brilliant stroke, a comprehensive foreign policy that both "carrots and sticks" Israel and Iran, and forces them to settle down and talk.