As John McCain and others attack while bipartisan figures from the past endorse him, Chuck Hagel calls to mind JFK’s dictum, “You can’t beat brains,” along with David Halberstam’s classic “The Best and the Brightest,” the story of how brilliant Defense Secretary Robert McNamara led a coterie of Ivy League high IQs into bungling the Vietnam war, in which Hagel served as a twice-wound enlisted man.
For his early opposition to the Iraq invasion, the nominee earns high points, and it’s hard to doubt the personal qualities of one who has earned the scorn of fellow Republicans for being right about that disastrous chapter. But does he qualify to oversee a crucial organization?
With the departure of Hillary Clinton and Leon Panetta, the braininess level of the Obama administration has gone down. John Kerry is bright enough, but those who recall what Karl Rove et al did to him in 2004 would not credit him with political genius. What the President needs in his second term is a cadre of key advisers who won’t bungle him into extraneous side issues. How do Kerry and Hagel rate on that score?
As confirmation grilling continues, the fair-minded should be less interested in Chuck Hagel’s views on the Iraq Surge, Israel or gays in the military, but the quality of mind he would bring to the Department of Defense, the subtlety of understanding to deal with a labyrinth of high-stakes conflict in the armed forces and those who profit from it.
To put it bluntly, is Hagel smart enough for the job?