Chuck Hagel Will Help Obama Find his “Inner Nixon”

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hagel hand clemons.jpgOne of these days, I’m going to post a long roster of foreign policy speeches and other writing by Senator Chuck Hagel. I’ll set The Washington Note up as the journal of record of “Hagelism” since I believe that we as a nation are going to be repeatedly coming back to his strategically sensible framework for thinking about national security and international political and policy issues.
Slowly, I’ve been weazling out of America’s national security bureaucracy a Hagel letter here and there that was addressed to Condi Rice or President Bush or some other significant player in the incumbent administration who ether contributed to or didn’t stop the swift erosion of America’s national security portfolio.
Hagel has been a trooper trying to help the Bush administration see the dangers ahead. He has been writing these thoughtful, prescient letters for years — and thus far, only a couple have seen the light of day.
Essentially, Chuck Hagel has reinforced over and over again that America needs to balance between stewardship of its core interests on the one hand, and on the other help to responsibly expand when it can prosperity, stability, democratic norms and self-determination.
He is the “no false choice” guy. He doesn’t burn bridges. He believes in principled, englightened American engagement in global affairs. He doesn’t want to see the US national security bureaucracy in a false standoff between Israel’s security interests and the Arab Middle East’s longer term objectives of stability and prosperity — and knows that America must not choose one over the other.
Hagel has opposed false trade-offs between embracing Eastern European nations (and even helping to create new ones) and Russia’s serious national priorities. He gets how transnational threats are challenging the fabric of states — not just networked, transnational terrorism but also refugee, disease, poverty and climate change crises.
Hagel believes in game-changing strategies with Iran. I think he probably thinks along the same lines when it comes to Syria and possibly even Cuba. To some degree, putting Syria on a new track robs Iran of some running room in much the same way that opening the spigots of engagement with Cuba rob Hugo Chavez of maneuvering room in Latin America.
Hagel is a hard-edged negotiator who has a vision of alternative equilibriums and is not an appeaser of global (or Senate) thugs. Like few others in the Senate — with perhaps Biden, Dodd, Feingold, Lugar, and formerly Lincoln Chafee as excepetions — Hagel knows that diplomacy is the more important force that must be deployed in such a way that process generates previously concealed or obscure openings and opportunities.
I have spoken to Senator Hagel on several occasions and believe that he thinks America must not wall itself off from enemies but must engage, wrestle with, intimidate, and seduce them. This, Hagel feels, may be the only method America has at its disposal to leap frog out of the quagmire it is in today into a new equilibrium, establishing a redrawn “deal” with other global stakeholders.
The world is at a historical pivot point — and America is too slowly realizing that inertia and incrementalism are keeping it from shaking up things and getting ahead of events in a new and constructive way. America’s foreign policy today is ad hoc, reactive — with little regard to what we hope the world will look like and what our place in world affairs will be decades from now.
At heart, Hagel is an evolved, internationally progressive Richard Nixon — and I wish that he had found himself debating either Barack Obama or John McCain tonight. But he won’t be president — at least not this round — but he is the right guy to be Secretary of State in the next administration.
I think Obama will win on November 4th — but I’m not offering this as an endorsement. It’s just where very strong winds are blowing — and to a certain degree, strikingly large macro factors have given Obama a tail wind that is covering up both the strengths and weaknesses of candidate Obama. Unless another large exogenous hit bursts on the American political scene, circumstances will push Barack Obama strongly forward into 1600 Pennsylvania.
But whether or not Obama wins the White House, Chuck Hagel would be the right Secretary of State for either McCain or Obama. McCain’s flirtation with an expansive, neoconservative agenda has been terrible for his campaign and has frightened Americans and much of the world with its calloused hubris.
I think that there are other good candidates to be chief diplomat — including Senator John Kerry who seems to want a post of major import in the next administration and yes, even Richard Holbrooke who has it in his DNA to play that role one day.
But when Senator Obama chose Joe Biden to be his Vice Presidential choice, to some degree that lessened the near term need (they would be ideal for round two appointments) for either Holbrooke who is a well-seasoned, progressively focused arm-twister (like no other in international affairs) and for John Kerry who basically looks a lot like Biden in his foreign policy views.
But Hagel is Nixon — more so than any of the candidates who ran for office — more than Obama, Biden, Dodd, Huckabee, Brownback, McCain, Romney, Edwards, Clinton, Tancredo, Paul — even Bill Richardson.
And this next administration needs a 21st century Nixonian hand who thinks naturally in those terms and sees the third and fourth and fifth dimension to problems — who understands that interests are not only national but international in impact and consequence and who understands that the wall separating economics and national security is false and should figure into Obama’s next “World Without Walls” speech.
Senator Hagel has been in Asia the last several days — visiting Japan, China, and South Korea — getting a sense of the strategic situation surrounding the seeming accomplishments of Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill in getting North Korea to agree again to invasive nuclear program inspections and further disabling its nuclear capacity in exchange for the US dropping it from the state sponsors of terror list.
Hagel is also taking stock of what China’s and Japan’s next moves in the global economy might look like — and how they are viewing America’s situation after much of the world is fuming at America for exporting poisoned financial products that virally spread leveling some of the world’s largest economic firms and nations.
On the home front, Hagel’s wife, Lilibet, will be watching the presidential debates tonight with Michelle Obama. Lilibet Hagel has endorsed Barack Obama for president, and Chuck Hagel has remained quiet for the time being.
Rumors are swirling that Chuck Hagel — and Colin Powell — may both endorse Barack Obama in the days shortly after this debate. I have no idea if that is true — and to some degree it doesn’t matter.
In the case of Powell — he is a sensible national security realist and cautious general who Obama (if he wins) should solicit advice from frequently.
But at the State Department, Chuck Hagel is the right guy to work with Barack Obama and Joe Biden in helping to move a mostly liberal administration towards a Nixonian direction that may feel alien and uncomfortable.
This is essentially what Bill Clinton did when he came into office and found despite his lack of interest in foreign policy (then) that Yeltsin’s Russia was imploding. Clinton got on the phone with Nixon and began a set of encounters and tutorials that helped Clinton manage the Russia challenge — and which helped contribute to the national rehabilitation of Richard Nixon in the eyes of many.
Many of Senator and possibly President Obama’s close retainers and acolytes may cringe at the thought of channeling Richard Nixon — but they will need his approach to global affairs in a time marked by the globally perceived decline of American moral, military and economic leadership.
Senator Chuck Hagel is trusted around the world, respected — and not for being nice — but rather for being straightforward with friends and rivals about the poorly understood fact that there are nearly always opportunities in persistent diplomacy and statecraft.
And most importantly, Chuck Hagel is the right guy to help an Obama administration embrace its “inner Nixon.”
— Steve Clemons

Comments

31 comments on “Chuck Hagel Will Help Obama Find his “Inner Nixon”

  1. drfra says:

    Using the “Inner Nixon” image is not one I would use, but I wholly agree with your assessment of Chuck Hagel. For those who have not read it, Hagel’s book “America, Our Next Chapter” is an intelligent and inspiring look toward the future policies of our country. I am an Obama supporter and feel that Hagel would be a perfect choice for Secretary of State. Needless to say, he would not even be considered by a McCain administration. And that says something in itself.

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  2. PBB says:

    Nixon and Kissinger bombed and killed innocent Cambodians and Vietnamese and helped set the stage for Pol Pot. How internationally progressive!!

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  3. Mr.Murder says:

    Nixon’s true landmark item was in domestic realms, EPA and price freezing etc. He lost the right wing uberbacking for that so they let him fall to his own ends.
    China was going to happen anyways, JFK himself made some allusions to that when he described “opportunity” in the Chinese language lexicon. He was already making tactful appeals to their enormous intellectual capacity through the emerging media.
    JFK also never pondered a ground war with China or a nuclear fallback to wipe egg from his face over Viet Nam.
    Nixon as a moderate or a paragon of virtue? End that!

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  4. Will S. says:

    Steve, your support of Senator Hagel has certainly raised his profile (in a positive direction) to the left of center folks in Washington. We are all the better for it.
    My concern is the lack of an endorsement from Senator Hagel. I would trust that given the dynamics in Nebraska (2nd district), as well as his current party affiliation that he has not renounced (an honorable decision I might add), that he would not be passed over. God forbid Richard Holbrooke is on anyone’s short-list.
    Politicians like Senator Hagel are one in a million. The man has been fair, calm, and intelligent in every interview that he has done. We need people like Chuck Hagel in government–especially working to fix the disasterous foreign policy errors that were caused by this administration.

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  5. Steve Clemons says:

    Jeremy — happy to discuss my views further on Nixon and Clinton and other Clinton Russia hands if you like. Not defensive about it — but I do think you underweight the reasons why Clinton reached out to Nixon. Get in touch with me if you want to discuss.
    But on other fronts — I definitely do NOT fall for every DC insider foreign policy type. Read the blog — I’m picky. I’m in the progressive realist/ethical realist camp. One doesn’t win praise for me easily.
    I, like many, did support John McCain in 2000. Norman Lear did too — and if you look at his donor roster, there are a huge number of Dems. McCain has changed. People change. I change my mind, as I have on McCain’s foreign policy course.
    You sound like you know what you are talking about — so happy to discuss. But don’t expect me to accept overstatement as to my tendencies to support anyone in foreign policy inside the establishment — just not true. And you need to acknowledge I think that the things I have outlines as why I like the old McCain are shared by many independents and progressives. He just isn’t in the same place anymore on foreign policy.
    But on insiderism, I plead guilty — I find DC fascinating and that is a lot of what this blog is about.
    best regards,
    Steve Clemons

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  6. Hiroshi Burnette says:

    Steve said “In the case of Powell — he is a sensible national security realist and cautious general who Obama (if he wins) should solicit advice from frequently.”
    Maybe so, but remember, 05 Feb 2003 is a day that should live in infamy. As the only credible high level official in the Bush circle, and possibly the only man who may have held the key to bring the Iraq invasion to a grinding halt, Powell stepped up to the plate and played his scripted role of a good soldier, putting the “con” in Neo-Con.
    The culmination of an unlikely career, a climb from impoverished black America to the apex, ended with a whimper as General “Tom” Powell rolled over for “Massah” Cheney. It was a disgraceful day at the UN on many levels; Powell tarnished not only the reputation of the United States but his own.

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  7. Zathras says:

    Actually, the Secretary of State really does have to be the face of American diplomacy abroad. If he isn’t, someone else will be.
    It won’t be a President Obama, who doesn’t know enough to do a lot of personal diplomacy and will be fully occupied with the domestic economy anyway. For better or worse, this is not the 1940s anymore; to do effective diplomacy, the State Department needs to have its chief go to foreign capitals, not have ambassadors try to handle things until foreign heads of state come to Washington. This means that the Secretary will need a relationship with the President strong enough that out of sight does not become out of mind.

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  8. Keith says:

    Thank you Steve for writing this detailed sales pitch for Chuck Hagel. I’ve been impressed with watching him for years and was very disappointed that he neither entered the presidential race nor wanted to remain in his Senate seat. I find his latest book to be the only foreign policy document that incorporates all the values that are important to my views on the role of the US in the world. The possibility that either candidate might nominate Hagel to be Secretary of State is thrilling for me both personally and about my expectations of American foreign policy for the next decade.

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  9. Jeremy Willett says:

    Steve Clemons! Whatever you’re smoking please share it! (re: your preposterous giving of credit to Nixon in handling Russia. I’m sure they spoke a few times, but you just negated everyone else Clinton spoke with, including his entire FP apparatus.)
    You REALLY need to get a life outside the beltway.
    Or do you want to defend Nixon’s brilliance on Vietnam and Cambodia? Didn’t think so.
    I remember when you thought so highly of one John McCain, too. You seem to fall in love with every DC FP establishment hero.

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  10. Dan Kervick says:

    The Secretary of State is the head of the US diplomatic and ambassadorial functions. That doesn’t mean that Secretary of States must themselves be the face of US diplomacy abroad. Curiously enough, what the State Department probably needs during the next eight years, even as it expands its role and powers abroad, is a chief who is able to fight here at home on behalf of the expanded role for US diplomacy, not one who is constantly on the road himself.
    The State Department has been severely weakened during the Bush administration, and has lost much of its former powers to defense and intelligence agencies. What the State Department needs at the top is both a loyal team player and a skilled, smart and experienced bureaucratic infighter, someone who knows how to wrest power back from the Defense Department, fight for budget priorities, deal with Congress and re-organize and re-energize the State Department to make it once again into the vital driver of US foreign policy. They need someone who knows how to sell the State Department and its role to Americans and to Congress. Hagel seems like far too much of an independent maverick, even a loner, to play this role. State needs a player. I would think someone like John Podesta would be more suitable.
    Let’s face it: Barack Obama is going to be doing a lot of his own diplomacy. And that’s what we should want. We don’t need a big star, prima donna Secretary of State like Kissinger or Holbrooke to play the role that the next president will and should be playing himself.
    When the United States is prepared to deliver a high-impact message to Africans, in person and on the African continent, that Africans should once again invest their long-term hopes in the American brand, and not be seduced by the short-run appeal of Chinese blandishments, which are bound to turn to long-run disappointments, who do we want delivering that message – Chuck Hagel or Barack Obama?
    When the US mounts a similar campaign to repair the damage Bush has done to our European relationships, and deliver a credible message that the US is prepared once again to commit to a vigorous, cooperative internationalism in exchange for the Europeans assuming more responsibility in the area of global security, who do we want to go to Europe and press that message? It’s going to be Obama himself. With all due respect to the esteem certain Europeans elites might have for Hagel, Obama is immensely popular in Europe, and most Europeans have probably never heard of Hagel.
    However, the US does need to elevate the global and domestic profiles of our ambassador to China, our ambassador to Russia, our ambassador to India, and our ambassador to Brazil. How many Americans even know who these people are these days? We need to return a bit of star power to our key ambassadors in key capitals. (And of course we need to establish relations with Iran and have a prominent ambassador there as well.)

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  11. TonyForesta says:

    I second Pauls Norheims repugnance to the mere idea of any future president assuaging anything like an “inner Nixon”. The third greatest crime in the history of America, was Ford pardonning Nixon. Had Nixon been impeached, (which was a certainty) most the hobgoblins, shades, and shaitans in the fascist bushgov would be in jail now or irrelevent. Instead they are hard at work funnelling the people’s wealth into the offsheet account of cronies, cabals, cotories, and oligarchs beholdend to the fascists that were trained and loosed under the Nixon administration. Nixon with the embryonic cancer cell that has radically metastasized into the fascist regime we have now that has all but destroyed America.
    That said, I understand your point about Nixonian diplomacy. But Obama, or any decent human being does not need to learn anything from a pathological liar and criminal like Nixon. Obama is already on record for strategic diplomatic efforts and talking to our enemies as well our friends to advance American interests.
    Hagel is decent man. Obama may very well glean bipartisan support, and worthy advice from the esteemed Chuck Hagel, – but please for the love of Christ – forget about ever suggesting that Obama can, or should learn anything from that slithering reptile, warmonger, profiteer, fascist, and pathological liar Nixon.

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  12. Greg P says:

    Funny, I mentioned to a colleague at the office this afternoon (a Democrat) that Lilibet Hagel was going to be Michelle Obama’s guest this evening at the debate, and quickly the conversation segued into how Hagel would make so much sense as Obama’s Secretary of State.
    Obama has spoken on several occasions of his desire to bring a few Republicans into his administration, and Hagel clearly fits the bill. Hopefully some other folks out in the blogosphere will pick up on the “Draft Hagel” meme…

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  13. DonS says:

    Don Bacon, good point, assuming the repbulican party wants to be led out of the right wing woods, given there may well be a populist backlash that will favor a repub challenger. The “true conservatives”, by that time, may all be in nursing homes, or have demented to the point where they can’t remember where they came from. Isn’t the question the repub party is faced with as we get ready to view its current standard bearer is, indeed, whither the rebuilican party???

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  14. JohnH says:

    Having watched Hagel these past few years, I cannot imagine nominating someone to a position of responsibility (SOS or ther), when that person has demonstrated such poor leadership skills that he can’t even convince himself to vote for the positions he advocates. Specifically, I’m referring to his votes on Iraq.
    Representing America abroad requires the semblance of conviction and the spine to back it up.

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  15. Don Bacon says:

    Involving Hagel in a Democratic administration would make him unavailable to lead the Republican Party out of the neocon woods and back to true conservatism.

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  16. Zed says:

    Anyone have any good reasons why Anthony Zinni never gets any mentions for positions in the state department. Seems that few can match his experience and temprament.

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  17. ChicagoBoy says:

    While I don’t like Nixon, I see Steve’s point and understand
    where he is going. Nixon did go to China full stop. No one else
    could have.
    In Rick Pearlstein’s book, Nixonland, Nixon does come out as an
    ingenius political monster of sorts who managed to do a lot of
    liberal things to move his agenda. While he was divisive and
    succeeded through dividing the country into bits and pieces, he
    was a smart evil genius of sorts, and that evil genius is what
    Steve is saying we need in a time when the US is up shit creek.
    I admire Steve Clemons for his provocative writing and think
    that it penetrates the Insider DC class because he writes in ways
    they can get it. That’s his audience.
    I jumped on the bandwagon when Steve went after John Bolton
    and went on his bandwagon again when he sank Evan Bayh’s VP
    chances with his “surge of concern” that sprang up on the
    internet. And is there anyone who doubts that Steve had a very
    strong hand in pushing Biden?
    He’s not batting a thousand but he has a batting average that is
    better than anyone in foreign policy. I can’t tell if he is
    influencing the decisions in DC or whether he just has such
    good inflow of data that he knows where things are going.
    But all that said, this is not a “safe” piece for Steve to write about
    Hagel. It makes a point that’s pretty original and I bet it will be
    read by all those DC insider types.

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  18. DonS says:

    Many, many reservations from the impotent peanut gallery (me) to the inside the beltway stuff here. (Perhaps I’m just a bit too jaded over the absoute disaster that the politcal-business axis has wrought on real people to comment cheerily).
    But, I’ll only say, that putting “Nixon” and “moral” in the same sentence does justice to neither. It’s hard to even dream that an analogy of Nixon and Hagel resonates in all but the most arcane circles; Nixon was sicko writ large.

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  19. Enon says:

    As an independent, I read a wide variety of political commentary, from the far left to the far right.
    ‘The Washington Note’ is certainly one of the best sites for sensible, informed, realist commentary.
    That said, sometimes you are so, so ‘inside the Beltway.’
    The idea of anybody’s inner Nixon makes my skin crawl. Looking at your biography, I see you were too young to remember the ‘Christmas Bombing’ (Operation Linebacker II), but I do. Richard Nixon wanted the North Vietnamese to believe he might be crazy, willing to do anything. To be sure that America wasn’t perceived as a ‘paper tiger’, he committed mass murder. And his administration started the precedent, now repeated applied, of one Republican administration committing crimes which get pardoned by the next Republican administration.
    Please find another metaphor. ‘Inner Nixon’ is just ugly.
    I’m still waiting to decide how I will cast my vote against McCain/Palin. If Colin Powell endorses Obama, I will be less, not more likely to vote for Obama. If the man had had an ounce of honor and integrity, he would have resigned in protest, rather than lying to the world about Iraq’s nonexistent WMD’s.

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  20. J says:

    Hagel will not be Secretary of State. Too valuable a position to give a non-Democrat. Remember, Hagel voted for the Iraq War, voted at multiple times for the confirmation of John Bolton (Steve, you never seem to mention this), and against ratification of the nuclear test ban treaty.
    He is known in the Senate as a talker, not a doer. Name one piece of legislation with his name attached to it.
    All that said, keep your eye on Hagel to succeed McConnell as DNI. A good compromise — we don’t want our intel chiefs to be too partisan.

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  21. Franklin says:

    Inner Nixon, or Inner Kissinger?
    e.g. How much of Nixon’s foreign policy was due to Kissinger’s influence? Did the two largely share a common world-view, was Nixon largely influenced by Kissinger, or was Kissinger largely influenced by Nixon?

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  22. Ben, UK says:

    Steve,
    Any thoughts on why Powell endorsing Obama moved +55 on InTrade today?

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  23. Scott Paul says:

    I too would be very pleased to see Sen. Hagel appointed Secretary
    of State in either a McCain or Obama administration. I can’t back
    this up, but I suspect Hagel is a strong Obama supporter. And
    here’s a prediction that goes against the grain in your post: Hagel
    won’t make an endorsement. My bet is that he’s staying out of the
    fray deliberately to make him a more enticing pick as Secretary of
    State.
    In most administrations, these sorts of posts go to folks who have
    gone out on a limb for the candidate. But Obama will be looking to
    project himself as post-partisan and free of the political patronage
    games he’s campaigned against. That means Hagel’s decision to
    not endorse ultimately bumps up his appeal as a nominee.
    I could be wrong, but it’s worth putting out there.

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  24. ... says:

    “national rehabilitation of Richard Nixon” should be “partial national rehabilitation of Richard Nixon”.
    Why pick Chuck Hagel when you can have Susan Rice? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Susan_E._Rice

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  25. Steve Clemons says:

    Paul — I don’t distort Hagel’s views I think. But there may be convergence here — thus my enthusiasm for his approach to problems.
    best, steve

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  26. Paul Norheim says:

    Obama`s “inner Nixon”? That sounds scary!
    Jokes aside, I am not sure to which extent this is an accurate
    portrait of Senator Chuck Hagel, or mirrors Steve Clemons`
    foreign policy views and wishes. But I look forward to the
    comments on this thread.

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  27. Zathras says:

    I don’t mean to sound like a broken record on this subject, but the next Secretary of State will inherit a department badly in need of strengthening — of its bureaucratic position as well as the size and capacity of its personnel — as well as a challenging international environment.
    This will be one tough row to hoe, and will require someone with a strong enough personal relationship with the President to do several things at once without worrying that someone else will be acting as the voice of American foreign policy. It will also require someone with sharp enough bureaucratic elbows to insist on his, and his department’s, prerogatives, and a will strong enough to threaten resignation if he is thwarted.
    My gut tells me that’s Holbrooke, not Hagel. But in truth, the most important condition here — the Secretary of State’s relationship with the President — is hard for me to figure. Sen. Obama just doesn’t have that many close relationships with people who might be Secretary of State. He does not know enough or show enough confidence in his own judgement to make foreign policy through someone he does not know well personally (as, for example, Nixon did with Henry Kissinger). It stands to reason that someone like Hagel, a Republican isolated in a Democratic administration allied to a Congress that will be heavily Democratic also, might need more frequent active support from an Obama White House than an active Democrat like Holbrooke. But Holbrooke probably made many enemies during the Clinton administration, and was a strong Clinton supporter during this year’s primaries, so he may not have that great an advantage here.
    Obama has in his campaign’s organization shown a serious dedication to orderly procedure. It’s the most attractive thing about him, and whoever he picks as Secretary of State probably won’t have to endure the end runs and blindside hits Colin Powell (or for that matter Cyrus Vance, William Rogers and Dean Rusk) did in that position. That’s a positive thing, and especially important since Obama’s Vice President might have gotten the job at State if he hadn’t gone on the ticket. The fact remains that all of our most successful modern Secretaries of State either had at the beginning or developed on the job strong personal relationships with the President’s they served. It is hard to say if Obama a) recognizes the importance of such a relationship or b) has thought that much about what he wants from his Secretary of State. Like so much else about the Presidency, filling this position will be unlike anything Obama has done before.

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  28. carol says:

    I do think Chuck Hagel would get a position in an Obama administration….he is one of the few decent Republicans out there and I think he would be an asset.
    It will be nice to have an administration that can work across the isle and keep this country safe and respected around the world again…also get this economy back on track, although we know that will take quite a while.

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  29. Ajaz says:

    Steve
    Chuck Hagel is one of the shrewdest foreign policy experts in the Senate. If Obama wins, I hope he appoints Hagel either Secretary of State so that he focuses on an early Israeli-Palestinian settlement and restoration of America’s respect in the world or Secretary of Defense so that he oversees an orderly withdrawal from Iraq.

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  30. Mr.Murder says:

    John Kerry gave up the right to be appointed to any position. He surrendered that in Ohio in 2004. Fight for every vote, except for any that might actually count.
    None of the votes counted because of that.
    Don’t. Go. There.
    BTW, Hagel was a Dubya supporter back in the day. That alone disqualifies him from anything aside from history’s scorn heap.

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