Policy: National Security

Michael Barone: Why does Chuck Hagel want the job?

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Politics,Beltway Confidential,Michael Barone,The Pentagon,National Security,Chuck Hagel

Here’s a question I have after Defense Secretary nominee Chuck Hagel’s disastrous day of testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Why does he want the job? His disclosure statements show that he was making good money, with multiple six-figure income streams. Statements made in his behalf showed that he had no trouble finding congenial company in which to air his complaints about “the Israel lobby” and the like.

Secretary of Defense is a difficult and demanding job. It’s very hard work. Almost all previous secretaries have had extensive high-level exposure to the Pentagon, the White House or the Armed Services Committees. Hagel has none. At the end of the hearing he said, “A number of questions were asked of me today about specific programs: submarine programs, different areas of technology and acquisitions and our superior technology. And I’ve said, I don’t know enough about it. I don’t. There are a lot of things I don’t know about. If confirmed, I intend to know a lot more than I do. I will have to.”

That sounds like a daunting learning curve. When President Obama asked Hagel whether he wanted to be Defense Secretary, why didn’t he just say he simply wasn’t prepared to do the job? I suppose the answer has to be that he welcomed the chance to make public policy—and policy of the sort suggested by his previous public statements. To those of us with different views and to those who support positions taken by the Obama administration with which Hagel has expressed disagreement, that is or should be a disturbing thought.

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