Home National Politics 9 Democrats Who’d Be Better than Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense

9 Democrats Who’d Be Better than Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense


(I never wanted Chuck Hagel to be Secretary of Defense in the first place. Here are the suggestions I made right before he was selected for alternatives… – promoted by lowkell)

Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense? Seriously? First of all, why this obsessive need of Democrats to nominate Republicans for Secretary of Defense? Is there some kind of self loathing going on here or what? Second, looking at Project Votes Smart’s ratings of Hagel, the guy’s abysmal on a wide range of issues – many of which relate to the military – such as ZERO ratings from NARAL and Planned Parenthood, ZERO from Environment America,  and 100% from the far-right-wingnut Family Research Council (labeled a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center). He’s also on the board of Chevron and otherwise leaves a lot to be desired on energy issues. He also has a poor record on LGBT issues. Bottom line, though: why on earth are we talking about appointing a Republican, let alone a right-wing one, to one of the top positions in the Cabinet, when there are plenty of other qualified candidates? Here are 10 possibilities, off the top of my head, who would be better picks than Chuck Hagel.

1. Michele Flournoy: Seems to me like this brilliant (“degrees from Harvard and Oxford, a stint at the Kennedy School and the Army War College”), serious (“very serious person, incredibly buttoned down, very careful in all that she does, not at all headstrong.”), and experienced (former third-ranking civilian at the Pentagon) would be a great choice. She would also be the first female Secretary of Defense, which would be a great “glass ceiling” barrier to smash through. What am I missing here?

2. Wesley Clark: Retired four-star general, brilliant, tremendous experience, etc. A former Republican turned Democrat. Another one who should certainly be on the short list.

3. Eric Shinseki: He’s “a retired United States Army four-star general who is currently serving as the 7th United States Secretary of Veterans Affairs. His final U.S. Army post was as the 34th Chief of Staff of the Army (1999-2003). He is a veteran of combat in Vietnam, where he sustained a foot injury.” He also “clashed with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld during the planning of the war in Iraq over how many troops the U.S. would need to keep in Iraq for the postwar occupation of that country.” Sounds like a winner to me! [Note: I’m told that Shinseki is not quite at the 10-year retirement requirement to be Defense Secretary.]

4. Jack Reed: The Senator from Rhode Island is a senior member of the Armed Services Committee, a West Point graduate, and also “an Army Ranger and a paratrooper…[serving] in the 82nd Airborne Division as an Infantry Platoon leader and in the 325th Infantry Regiment as a Company Commander and later as a Battalion Staff Officer.”

5. Ashton Carter: Currently Deputy Defense Secretary, he’s brilliant (“doctorate in theoretical physics from the University of Oxford, where he was a Rhodes Scholar”) and experienced (e.g., he “managed the multi-billion dollar Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction program to support elimination of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons of the former Soviet Union, including the secret removal of 600 kilograms of highly enriched uranium from Kazakhstan in the operation code-named Project Sapphire”). He’s also a Democrat, having served in the Clinton and Obama administrations.

6. Carl Levin: Chairman of the Senate Committee on Armed Services, “a strong advocate for cost controls regarding military procurements,” who has “pushed for less secrecy in government, working to declassify many documents, particularly where claims of ties between Iraq and al-Qaeda are concerned.”

7. Jim Webb: Another former Republican turned Democrat, Webb will be available for the job, and certainly has the credentials and experience, including serving as Navy Secretary under Ronald Reagan, to do it. He probably wouldn’t be interested, though, which is why I put him low on the list.

8. Bob Kerrey: Former Democratic Senator, ran this cycle for his old seat (and lost), “served in the Vietnam War as a naval officer and SEAL and was awarded the Medal of Honor (MOH) for heroism in combat”

9. Joe Sestak: A “former U.S. Navy three-star Admiral and former American politician. A Democrat, he served as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for two terms, from Pennsylvania’s 7th congressional district from 2007 to 2011. He was and remains the highest-ranking military official ever elected to the U.S. Congress.”

Seems to me that any of these people would be better picks to me than Chuck Hagel. Thoughts? Other possibilities? Or are you happy with Hagel?

  • Paba

    The same one that’s hosting some god-awful reality show on NBC that trains D-list celebs to be soldiers? He’s through.

    Webb doesn’t seem to want to have to answer to anyone after his Senate career.

    Levin might possibly retire from the Senate soon, not sure if he’d want an equally stressful job now.

    Sestak has some flake-like features and his political experience pales next to some of these others.

    Honestly Reed is probably the smartest choice. Safe seat, too.

    I’d be just as happy leaving Panetta in there, if he wants it.

  • blue bronc

    I cannot believe there are no women available who are capable of running the DoD.  The interesting thing is it was on Joe “who was that woman?” Scarborough that a guest pointed out that all the names for all the cabinet openings were white males.  All I could think of was that was either a political talking point of the Republicans or the White House is floating “safe” names.

    I would like to know why a Republican male is the top choice instead of a Dem?  There is no need for any more of the cross party idiocy.  The Republicans are going to take anything Obama gives and then attack him harder and try to destroy him as much or even more.  Screw the Republicans.

    Nancy Pelosi for Secretary of Defense.

  • True Blue

    Flournoy, top choice; a woman whose expertise is strategy. They should have nominated her instead of Hagel.

  • ir003436

    Speaking as an old soldier with experience from the mud in Vietnam to the Pentagon E Ring —

    — I say NO to:  Wes Clark (a self-promoter); Jim Webb (just because); Carl Levin (not another Congresscritter); and Jack Reed (I,too, am a Ranger, Airborne, platoon leader, company commander, yadda, yadda, yadda, and I’m not qualified — leave him in Congress).

    — I could support:  Michele Flournoy (smart, and tough as woodpecker lips); Ash Carter (I worked for him for a year — brilliant, knows DoD in and out, may be a bit close to the defense industry, may be too procurement and development oriented, not a killer); Eric Shinseki (Eric was a student of mine at Leavenworth; his experience at VA may keep him out).

    — I’m ambivalent about Bob Kerrey (I think time has passed him by); Joe Sestak (don’t know enough about him).

  • scott_r

    First, Shinseki resigned from the VA months ago in the wake of the last big hospital/patient scandal.  He’s tarnished (unfairly) and done.  

    Second, Webb is running for President.  He’s not going to want to be associated with the ugly realities of an actively governing administration[1].  This is why Hilary left after the first term.

    Third, Jack Reed is running for the Senate again, and he, like Webb, doesn’t want to be associated with the tail end of a now-unpopular administration and the offend-everybody realities of actually governing[1].  Likewise Joe Sestak.

    Fourth, Carl Levin has already retired.  He didn’t do it because he couldn’t have kept the seat.  He did it because he’s quite old now and while he would be a suitable caretaker, taking on the helm of the Pentagon would be more work that remaining in the Senate.  Really, likewise Bob Kerrey.  Being a vet alone isn’t qualification, and Kerrey has been out of DC (retired) for much too long, and out of the military even longer.

    The final two years of an administration, with nothing but unpopular policy choices, is a good time for a career technocrat – someone who won’t be hurt by (or care so much about) what it does to their big political agenda, and someone who actually knows how the levers and knobs work – someone who can actually implement some good policy while everyone keeps their head down and finishes out the term.

    I do agree with your top pick of Michele Flournoy.  It would be great to have a woman lead the Pentagon.  Ashton Carter is pretty much the reference implementation of a technocrat and is perfectly positioned.

    [1] people on this blog will wail and gnash about how evil drones and the CIA are, as they attempt to struggle with the realities of “broken” states (states which have never actually organically evolved as states), at the same time people on the other end of the spectrum froth-and-spittle just as vigorously that we’re not sending entire armored divisions to conquer and occupy in the name of Empire.  The pragmatic reality (and President Obama’s greatest attribute has been that he’s a pragmatist and realist) is that the real solution is an ideologically unsatisfying Goldilocks policy.  

  • FredFred

    Both have declined.