Gordon Lubold of Foreign Policy magazine has kicked off what promises to be a festive season here in the nation’s capital. I don’t mean the holiday season, I mean hunting season, and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel is squarely in the cross-hairs. In a carefully balanced but decidedly unflattering essay entitled “The Pentagon’s Invisible Man,” Lubold gives voice to discontent about Hagel’s performance heretofore only expressed behind closed doors. Past experience suggests that the appearance of Lubold’s piece in a highly prestigious outlet will lead to follow-on treatments that are far less even-handed.
If you are new to River City and don’t understand how these things work, then here’s a couple of tip-offs from the piece as to what lies ahead for Secretary Hagel. When Lubold writes, “a number of Washington’s most prominent public defense analysts took a pass when asked to comment about Hagel’s agenda,” what he is really saying is that he couldn’t find any pundits with a kind word to offer about the defense secretary’s performance. And when Lubold writes that, “In the Pentagon, the mood about Hagel is a mixture of circumspection and wait and see,” what he really means is that Hagel’s subordinates are not happy.
It is an inexorable law of journalism that other writers will now try to turn out assessments of Hagel’s tenure that are more blunt, with anonymous insiders saying all sorts of negative things. That’s the way Washington works; everybody in a position of power eventually gets the treatment. So before the floodgates open, let’s try to put the defense secretary in proper perspective. Is he a strong manager? No he isn’t. Is he a forceful advocate? Apparently not. Does he take direction well from his advisors? Not if his confirmation hearings are any indication.
However, here are a few positive things to which Chuck Hagel can lay claim. He is a genuine war hero who volunteered for duty in Vietnam and was awarded two Purple Hearts. He was a very successful telecommunications entrepreneur who pioneered the deregulation of the phone industry. He was a U.S. Senator who despite strong conservative views reflecting the political culture of his native Nebraska, was willing to reach across the partisan divide in pursuit of higher purposes. And perhaps most importantly, he is an honest man trying to do the right thing. There’s a lot of people like that in Washington — John Kerry fits the description too — but few people outside D.C. seem to believe it.
Author Lubold suggests that people are unhappy with Hagel because he hasn’t fired a general or killed a weapon system to demonstrate he can be decisive. That’s not much of a metric for judging excellence in office. Maybe Hagel’s just too thoughtful to make the kind of sweeping changes that get noticed by the chattering classes. Nuance and subtlety generally don’t play well in the blogosphere. However, as the coming season of discontent unfolds for Secretary Hagel, no one should doubt that this is a man of unusual character, a patriot who risked his life for America and has always tried to follow his conscience. That should count for something.
Find Archived Articles: