Political Animal


December 26, 2012 2:53 PM Cabinet Rope-a-Dope?

By Ed Kilgore

Despite the late push Chuck Hagel is getting from the commentariat in his presumed aspirations to become Secretary of Defense, it remains entirely possible Obama will move in a different direction, naming former Undersecretary of Defense and frequent Obama foreign policy surrogate Michele Flournoy to run the Pentagon.

One reason for that scenario is that Republicans have committed heavily to an effort to block Hagel much as they did Susan Rice, in the process saying many nice things about Flournoy just as they did about John Kerry. In appraising a Flournoy appointment as a good idea substantively as well as politically, TNR’s Molly Redden does not directly suggest a deliberate Obama rope-a-dope strategy, but certainly supplies evidence it’s a possibility:

[H]ad Flournoy’s name been leaked as the potential secretary of defense nominee instead of Hagel’s, there’s no shortage of material the GOP could have drawn upon to slime her instead, and it’s hard to imagine why they wouldn’t have. There were her ardent defenses of Obama’s foreign policy during the campaign, and her unmasked distaste for Republicans’ politicization of the Benghazi attacks. Flournoy, says [Colin] Kahl, spearheaded the strategic implementation plan for Obama’s $400 billion in cuts to defense spending, which conservative think tanks and leaders—including the outfit where [Dan] Senor, who has trouble spelling Flournoy’s last name correctly, and [Bill] Kristol, who has trouble spelling her first name correctly, are board members—have roundly opposed.

The bottom line is that the Obama cabinet could soon include two nominees—Kerry and Flournoy—confirmed without a great deal of trouble who (a) would undoubtedly have aroused more controversy had their names been at the top of insiders’ “lists,” and (b) are very reliable proponents of just about every element of Obama’s foreign policy and national security policy. If it turns out that way, credit the White House for either a smart strategy, or for some unexpected good luck.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • Rick B on December 26, 2012 3:14 PM:

    We'll know it was a white house rope-a-dope strategy if there is suddenly a proposal for ATF Director leaked and slimed, followed by an alternative who gets rave tea party reviews.

  • c u n d gulag on December 26, 2012 3:31 PM:

    A WOMAN SecDef!

    How COOL would that be!?!?!?

    This old Liberal male says, "Chuck, who?"

  • bleh on December 26, 2012 3:47 PM:

    Or, of course, it could be that Obama was pushed from his first choices into nominating someone the Republicans preferred from the start.

    I have great respect for Obama's rope-a-dope skills, but I think there's a point at which this all becomes rank speculation.

  • low-tech cyclist on December 26, 2012 4:18 PM:

    Screw this eleven-dimensional chess crap: there's a time to stand and fight, just to show you won't be pushed around.

    Getting them to push you to where you wanted to be anyway will work once in awhile, but as a regular approach it's just going to get you pushed around on everything.

    Obama should have been ready to stand and fight over Susan Rice, and Rice shouldn't have been mentioned at all if she hadn't been ready for that fight.

    Hell, back in early 2011, Obama should have let the GOP shut down the government, just to make that same point - so that by the time the debt ceiling came around in the summer, he'd have had some cred in the stand-and-fight department. Instead...well, we know what happened instead.

  • sjw on December 26, 2012 4:45 PM:

    If the Obama administration leaked Hagel's name because it really wanted him, then it has a moral and political obligation to follow through. Do something. Defend him. Name him. Something. If the Obama administration leaked Hagel's name as part of a rope-a-dope strategy, then it is a very nasty way to treat Hagel. I just don't buy it. I see another Obama wimp-ass performance here.

  • mrgavel on December 26, 2012 5:34 PM:

    From the outside it is hard to tell what is actually going on inside the Obama Administration with what it does and doesn't do regarding how it interacts with Republicans. Part of the reason is that Obama doesn't really seem interested in using the media to get his thoughts out there. If he has something to say, he says it, but it doesn't seem like he gets his story out by using off the record stuff or not for attribution stuff.

  • Doug on December 26, 2012 6:33 PM:

    Am I correct in thinking that NOONE gas been officially named as contenders for SoD? That everything we've heard about Hagel, or anyone else, is because the Beltway Cocktail Circuit has to talk about SOMETHING and this might as well be it? I mean, it's not as if there's anything else happening, or rather NOT happening, in DC, is there? Paging Speaker Boehner, paging Speaker Boehner, where HAS he BEEN?

    We know, and it rather appears as if the President does as well, that anyone he nominates who isn't a Tbagger/Bircher will immediately be assaulted by McConnell, McCain and their House counterparts; while being ably assisted by Murdoch's media, that fat drug addict and anyne else with a microphone or a computer and just enough brain cells to let them make use of such equipment.
    Which leads me to believe there are four people who probably know who President Obama is going to nominate: the President, Majority Leader Reid, whoever's head of the Seante Armed Forces Committee and the potential nominee.
    It should be a very interesting January...

  • rrk1 on December 26, 2012 6:45 PM:

    Hagel may be a homophobic shit, but if Obama used him as a stalking horse to draw the fire of AIPAC and that ilk that really is dirty double dealing. Somehow, I just don't see Obama leading a rope-a-dope strategy here. If Hagel is out, so is Obama's cred for getting any of nominees through. Maybe it's all too subtle, or convoluted for me to understand., but the Likud Israelis don't want Hagel. So if he's eliminated they win. Again. End of story.

    I think Obama constitutionally doesn't know how to or want to fight for anything. It's all beneath him to stand for something on principle. He still wants to be the post-partisan, bipartisan president. I voted for him holding my nose, but the stench is getting stronger by the day.

  • Hue & cry on December 26, 2012 11:38 PM:

    How much energy is the president supposed to expend to deal with obstructionist Republican'ts and pathologically jealous senatorial colleagues such as McCain and Graham.
    Seems names float out because of the nature of politics, and we're too quick to blast criticisms that he won't fight for himself.

    To quote Ornstein and Mann, both centrists:

    "The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.

    When one party moves this far from the mainstream, it makes it nearly impossible for the political system to deal constructively with the country’s challenges."

  • Roll on December 27, 2012 2:04 AM:

    Doubt that Obama would be using Rice and Hagel in such a heartless way. Whatever his flaws, intentional malice is not part of his strategy and character.

  • cat on December 27, 2012 7:58 AM:

    Hagel has all kinds of defenders in foreign policy. One of the Wonks I was reading said that he is "best friends with VP Biden & Hagel has lunch with Biden every week at the WH". He already works for Obama too on a Presidential Review Board of Intelligence. What's a friend for but to get you what you want deviously?? Obama must think highly of Hagel himself b/c he took him as an advisor on his 2008 Campaign Excellent Tour. He had about 16 Advisors along while Rombot just had 3 on the RomneyShambles Tour. Big difference! Personally, I adore Hagel. He's VERY Blunt, but nice too!

  • Sean Scallon on December 27, 2012 9:26 AM:

    It may not be any skin off your nose if Hagel is or isn't SoD, but doES Obama really want to start off his second term looking like a 98-pound weakling, pulling potential nominees in the face of fierce opposition.

    Like it or not this is a fight which needs to take place, otherwise the neocons and Likudniks will declare a major victory in stopping someone they deathly afraid of (Hagel) for a cypher at the Pentagon. If they are seen to be able to intimidate a successfully re-elected President even though they should be on the margins of power, it will only feed their hubris to create even more problems in a second Obama Administration and pretty much make Netanhayu impervious to any kind of pressure from Washington.

    If you guys really want to see change in the GOP away from the crazy, the best way to do so is helping Hagel. But then again, maybe that's not the idea.

  • Lance on December 27, 2012 10:51 AM:

    It's amusing that the Neocons didn't want Susan Rice, who was far more interventionist than John Kerry, who they now will get.

    And it's amusing that the Republicans don't want Chuck Hegal, who might have been less of a cost cutter than Michele Flournoy...

  • zandru on December 27, 2012 11:14 AM:

    I see that "big Israel supporter" keeps coming up in descriptions of Ms. Flournoy. Shouldn't the US Secretary of DEFENSE be someone who puts the United States first?!? Israel has wagged the US for decades now, to our (and its) detriment.

    Chuck Hagel's coolness towards the Israeli rightwingers and disinclination to go to war against Iran were big pluses, in my view. His views on non-heterosexuality were, to me, not necessarily a deal breaker: he WILL obey the laws, I assume?

    Per sjw, on Obama's "moral and political obligation to follow through": Moral AND political? AND? Seriously? I thought you only got one of those at a time.

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