Hawkish groups that sought to pre-emptively sink Chuck Hagel’s candidacy for secretary of defense may have been trying to teach President Obama and his supporters a lesson — but it seems they’re the ones who may look back at this episode as a cautionary tale.
“You don’t want to wound the king,” Joseph Cirincione, president of Ploughshares Fund, told me. The anti-Hagel camp miscalculated, he said, and will likely “lose this fight, and look impotent.”
Ultimately, that may give Obama, and those urging him to be bolder in his efforts to get a diplomatic deal with Iran, “more space” for his national security priorities, Cirincione said.
“When I look at what he is doing: There were other capable candidates for secretary of defense, but they didn’t bring everything Chuck Hagel brought, and that level of trust and comfort,” he said. “And when you look around, you see that Obama is basically assembling his own gangster squad. John Kerry, Chuck Hagel, John Brennan, added to Biden, Denis McDonough. These are his guys.”
This new team — if Obama indeed wins Hagel’s confirmation battle — may give him the opportunity to more aggressively pursue goals such as global nuclear arms reductions and bolder diplomacy to try to strike a nuclear deal with Iran. “It looks like he is positioning himself to make the dramatic change in national security policy that he promised [in 2008] and that he wants to make,” Cirincione added.
The Obama administration knows that the Hagel nomination “is like picking up a rock and discovering all the nasties underneath,” a Democratic source close to the administration told me on condition of anonymity. The administration “may not have wanted to have a fight at the outset, but I think at least some want to have this fight now, to shine a light on some really awful, blackmail-style politics. They are sick of these groups boxing them in and want a public fight to expose them and hopefully put them in their place.”
“If they win, it may expand space for actual ‘moderate’ voices on Israel [and] Iran,” the Democratic source said. “The stakes are really high — so they better go all in and win.”