“Don’t mess with the man. He could still kick all your asses and then walk across the street and buy a soda. I’ve seen him do it.”

I have to admit, President Obama remains difficult to scrutinize for me. There are times when it seems as though he’s working through a grand strategy for victory, only for it to become abundantly clear that there was no strategy (the debt ceiling), or that the strategy misfired months earlier (health care reform). And there are times when it seems like nothing is going on, or the man is making a mistake, and it winds up that the he sneaked in a strategic masterstroke. I believe that we’ve just seen one of the latter with his nomination of Chuck Hagel as Defense Secretary.

How brilliant? Let’s go through the ways:

  1. The pick has provided a clear signal to progressives, ironically enough since Hagel is a Republican who supported both of Bush’s wars. But Hagel’s clear statements on war with Iran, Iran sanctions, defense cuts and the influence of the Israel lobby give clear indications of what sorts of priorities Obama is likely to make in his second-term foreign policy. Of course, Hagel will still have to take orders as Defense Secretary, but there’s little likelihood that Obama would appoint someone with views significantly in friction with his own, given Obama’s dislike for drama within his own team, and the many ways in which a hostile defense secretary can make life miserable for a president. This is, IMO, why neocons are so damn angry: Obama is plainly signaling that he’s not going to fulfill any items on their wish list next term. So this is good in and of itself, and Glenn Greenwald even approves.
  2. What could get interesting is just how nuclear the GOP is willing to go on Hagel. Hagel is one of those former GOP Senator types most idolized by the media (Richard Lugar and Bob Dole are also in this group). Hagel is liked because he was a dissident and iconoclast who broke with his party in a high-profile way. There’s nothing the media loves more. If Republicans think they can rip him to shreds without paying a price from Hagel’s admirers in the press, here’s a little taste of what they can expect from no less an establishment voice than Joe Scarborough“If anybody out there wants to say that Chuck Hagel is outside the mainstream on foreign policy, I suggest they turn the mirror around on them,” Scarborough responded on Monday morning. The MSNBC host offered a forceful defense of Hagel, who he called a “war hero who still carries schrapnel” in his body.
  3. Hagel is a Republican, so Obama will get some nontrivial bipartisan plaudits. But he’s also a Republican with no real ties to his party’s leadership, and will be entirely devoted to Obama as defense chief. Probably the best of all possible worlds in terms of appointments of this kind.

So, on the one hand, Obama gets good vibrations from the left (for picking someone with more ideologically appealing views), from the center (for bipartisanship), gets the media to help defend his choice for him, and possibly even talk a little bit about how radical Republicans have become, that they’d destroy someone who four years ago was one of their top foreign policy guys. The latter might be most consequential, since it’s the hidden story these past couple years that the media has largely neglected to get out there, and that discussion has already begun. Obama really played this hand like a master this time.

  1. Metavirus says:

    i sometimes wonder if obama has a secret twin. and they switch off every week. definitely two sides to that man.

  2. This is what you get when you elect a complex individual and then try to pigeon hole him. In a lot of ways our President is a very conservative man, a constitutional lawyer is not know to be a flaming liberal. In other ways he is very calculating and cold. But he also has his passions. I also see a lot of Clinton’s hand in this. If properly worked it should drive the GOP further apart.

    • Matmos says:

      I also think that within all that he does he’s working to re-educate the electorate about what they have to actually do in order to maintain a self-governing country rather that perpetually abrogating their power by default.

      Don’t know if that’s true or not, just my opinion.

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