Tags: Barack Obama | defense | hagel | replacement

Lame-Duck Obama Can't Woo Top-Flight Defense Secretary: Historians

By Thursday, 27 November 2014 05:55 PM Current | Bio | Archive

Two of the favorites to be Barack Obama’s next secretary of defense took themselves out of consideration for the job 48 hours after Chuck Hagel’s surprise exit Monday.

As of Friday, signs are strong that the President will be unable to attract a top-flight or "name" candidate to fill the Pentagon post for his last two years in the White House.

In separate interviews with Newsmax, two presidential historians reached this conclusion about the president and predicted he would face the same difficulty in trying to attract prominent appointees to fill future vacancies in his administration.

No sooner had Obama announced Monday that Hagel was stepping down during an appearance in the Rose Garden than speculation began that his replacement would be either Sen. Jack Reed (D.-Rhode Island) or former Pentagon official Michele Flournoy.

But within hours, West Point graduate and Senate Armed Services Committee Member Reed removed his name from consideration. On Wednesday, Flournoy, a founder and now a director of the Center for a New American Security, said she wasn’t interested in the job.

Long touted as the first female secretary of defense, Flournoy is likely to be a top adviser to a Hillary Clinton presidential bid in 2016 and could easily be secretary of state or defense under a "President Clinton-45".

"It is infinitely more difficult to entice rats to join a sinking ship than it is to offer them passage when the ship is launched," said David Pietrusza, author of three best-selling books on presidential election years. "Few people want to disrupt their lives for a short-term engagement."

Pietrusza, whose upcoming book is on the 1932 elections of Franklin Roosevelt in the U.S. and Adolf Hitler in Germany, told us that this dilemma is common in governments in which the head of state is leaving office or thought to be leaving office.

"This certainly happened to [New York’s former Republican Gov.] George Pataki when he was completing his third term [2002-06]," he said, "Top people realized this was the end of his career and just wouldn’t come on board to work with him in Albany."

Irwin Gellman, author of the much-praised "The Contender," about Richard Nixon’s early political career, said that "it's the nature of Barack Obama, a lame-duck president without much background in management, to have difficulty getting the best people to serve in any government job."

Gellman recalled how Obama "convinced Robert Gates, who served in the Bush administration, to stay on as secretary of defense and he was an A-Team candidate. Then he replaced him with Leon Panetta, a Democrat with a long resume in government. And then he appointed Chuck Hagel, at best a controversial character who came into office under prejudicial circumstances," referring to Hagel’s background as a Republican senator who irked fellow party members by refusing to support John McCain against Obama in '08.

"So now, just who can [Obama] get to walk into the Department of Defense, deal with a military that is underfunded because of sequestration but required in situations such as Iraq and Libya?

"You’ll need perhaps a year to figure out how to operate under these circumstances. So if you’re a B-level politician or a corporate leader, why would you take the job?"

Gellman, whose next book on Nixon, dealing with his vice presidential years, will be released next year, also pointed out that Obama will be facing a Senate controlled by the opposition party that is certain to put any Cabinet appointment under strong scrutiny.

He recalled how Nixon, facing a Democratic-controlled Senate in his second term as the Watergate scandal began to metastasize in 1973, had to turn increasingly to people who could win Senate confirmation for major appointments.

"He wanted to name [former Texas Gov.] John Connally vice president but knew he wouldn’t be confirmed, so he named Gerald Ford, a veteran congressman," said Gellman, "and when he needed an attorney general, he turned to [Ohio Sen.] William Saxbe, someone he was not close to, because he would be confirmed.

(Saxbe once remarked of Nixon "he was out of his ******** mind)."

"President Obama will have to turn to similar people for appointments — if he can convince them to take it."

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.

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Two of the favorites to be Barack Obama's next secretary of defense took themselves out of consideration for the job 48 hours after Chuck Hagel's surprise exit Monday.
defense, hagel, replacement
Thursday, 27 November 2014 05:55 PM
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