The Campaign Spot

Election-driven news and views . . . by Jim Geraghty.

Chuck Hagel, Impending Placeholder


The Washington Post’s Walter Pincus compares Chuck Hagel, former senator and nominee to be secretary of defense, to the late Les Aspin, the former congressman who became Bill Clinton’s first secretary of defense.

As one of Aspin’s long-term friends, I was among those who warned him that he had to shape up if he took the Pentagon job. His every step would be weighed by the military, from the Joint Chiefs on down the chain of command.

I was sitting in the stands at Fort Myer during Aspin’s welcoming ceremony in 1993. I will never forget the murmurs among the officers and enlisted men around me when Aspin, slouching and out of step, reviewed the troops.

Almost immediately he faced complicated issues, but Aspin’s easy-going style never gained much respect within “the building” — the Pentagon. Criticized for Somalia decisions and troubled by a heart problem, he resigned in early 1994.

The irony about Hagel’s hearing performance is that it hid his feisty personality and left the impression he could be pushed around. More than a half-dozen times he apologized for making perfectly acceptable statements, sometimes not bothering to correct senators who took those statements out of context.

He seemed to forget — or never realized — that he had that equally important audience at the Pentagon and on military bases around the world.

Pincus insists Chuck Hagel is feisty. Perhaps.

But Hagel is also the man who told the Senate Armed Services Committee:

A number of questions were asked of me today about specific programs. Submarine programs, different areas of technology and acquisitions, 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’ll have to. At the same time, I would never think this about me or that I will be running anything.

Does that sound like a man who can’t wait to get into the job? Does that sound like a man whose passion and drive will keep him going during the long hours and grueling schedule?

If confirmed, how quickly does Hagel burn out in the job? A year? Two years?

Tags: Chuck Hagel


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