Getting a Republican to Implement Democratic Defense Policies is Unnerving the GOP

| Mon Jan. 7, 2013 1:01 PM EST

So it looks like Obama is going to nominate Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense after all. Andrew Sullivan says his core qualification is that he was a clear-eyed critic of the Iraq war even though he initially supported it:

Unlike so many of the lemmings and partisans of Washington DC, Hagel actually called out the catastrophe of the Iraq War as it happened. The neocons cannot forgive him for exposing what they wrought on the nation and the world. For good measure, he has a Purple Heart and has served in combat. Not easy to say about most of the Iraq War armchair warriors and war criminals.

Which is to say, as Chuck Todd said this morning, this nomination is about accountability for the Iraq War. All those ducking responsibility for the calamity — Abrams, Kristol, Stephens — are determined that those of us honest enough to resist, having supported in the first place, be erased from history. Or smeared as anti-Semites. Or given that epithet which impresses them but baffles me: "outside the mainstream". Rephrase that as — after initial support — being "outside the Iraq War mainstream" in DC — and you have a major reason to back him.

I won't pretend to have a firmly considered opinion about Hagel. On general principle, I don't like the idea of nominating a Republican to run the Pentagon yet again. Doing it once is one thing. Doing it a second time sends a message that there just aren't enough Democrats around who are qualified to run the warmaking branch of government.

Still, there's no getting around the smartness of the strategy. When it comes to defense policy, Obama's tenure has mostly been marked by (a) withdrawing troops from warzones, (b) cutting the Pentagon budget, and (c) repealing DADT. Getting a Republican on board as the public face of those policies gives them a bipartisan cast that would be nearly impossible to get otherwise. This is one reason that I think Republicans are so unnerved by Hagel. Despite what they say, their real problem is that they don't like the idea that one of their own will be telling the country that it's OK to withdraw from Afghanistan and it's OK to shave the defense budget a bit.

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