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THE MUSINGS OF A TRADITIONAL SOUTHERN DEMOCRAT

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Sid in his law office where he sits when meeting with clients. Observant eyes will notice the statuette of one of Sid's favorite Democrats.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Shields and Brooks and on Hagel


From the PBS Newshour:

JUDY WOODRUFF: Let me turn you both to running the Pentagon.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Mark, steps down this week. He’s the third secretary of defense in the Obama administration to be leaving the position. They are now looking for a fourth. What does this say, does Chuck Hagel’s experience say about the administration, say about him?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, you know, I should acknowledge right up front I’m a sympathizer, supporter of Chuck Hagel, and have been for a long time, admired his own service both to the country politically and publicly and volunteered in the military to serve as heroically as he did in Vietnam.

But, Judy, when you’re looking for your fourth secretary of defense in less than six years, which is what this administration is doing, and the previous two, Hagel’s two predecessors, both went public with charges of micromanagement from the White House, that — Bob Gates, a reasonable man, said it drove him crazy.

When — when Leon Panetta said it’s leading to an exclusion of other voices, just a limitation, that the president is sort of surrounded by this clique of very hyper, uber loyalists, but with very few other people, that the Cabinet is excluded, I think it’s a comment on a situation that is serious to the president.

And I really…

JUDY WOODRUFF: A situation that…

MARK SHIELDS: A situation that he is in a bubble that is very, very narrowed, that they’re trying to run everything out of the White House.

And I think this is a — I think it’s a problem that they had that Gates complained of it, that Panetta complained of it. And it didn’t change under Chuck Hagel. And they can fault Chuck Hagel. The president praises him and then immediately the White House staffs starts sniping that he wasn’t up to the job, he didn’t have the substance, he wasn’t proactive, whatever the hell that means.

So, they immediately accuse the president of dissembling — their — their loyalists are suggesting the president was being disingenuous when he praised the president and — the secretary as an exemplary defense secretary.

JUDY WOODRUFF: David?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes.

Well, each administration over the last 30 years probably has concentrated more and more power in the White House. For a long time, most of the other Cabinet secretary jobs have been neutered. But it used to be, you had the big three, secretary of state, secretary of defense, and the surgeon general, had some independent authority.

Under this administration, I think even the big three have been severely weakened, none more seriously than Chuck Hagel. There are people who follow this who say he underperformed in certain roles, especially the outside roles.

But it’s certainly true that he wasn’t consulted in all sorts of policies concerning the Defense Department, that decisions were made in the White House both here and abroad and then he was told about them later. And he tried to be a good soldier. And so if you are going to hire somebody to be a good soldier, you can’t really fault them for not being proactive, because you’re not giving them anything to do.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, do we look for the next secretary of defense to be somebody who very close — already in close with the White House, Mark?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, Judy, ironically, the next secretary of defense is probably Chuck Hagel.
I mean, we have had two — Jack Reed, senator from Rhode Island, rejected it 30 microseconds after he was floated. Michele Flournoy, the former deputy secretary of defense, said she wasn’t interested. So, I don’t know who is going to be and then confirmed.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Quick thought, David?

DAVID BROOKS: I agree. They’re having trouble, because who wants to be a weak person with only two years left?

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