“Even late night comics are taking shots,” CNN reports about the Obama administration’s inept personnel decisions in the wake of the firing of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. And well they should, as the transitions of late in the White House have become an unmitigated disaster. The problem, Erin McPike notes, is the intense micromanagement from Barack Obama and his inner circle that turned what should be a key policy-making position into a rubber stamp, especially with the appointment of a non-entity like Hagel last year. Now no one with any independence of thought wants the position, and that leaves the White House flailing:
Politico’s Austin Wright and Michael Hirsh painted a bleak picture of the “opportunity” this opening affords potential nominees:
To understand why Flournoy and others are dropping out of the running for secretary of defense, just think about the job description:
You’ll be working for a president who once declared that he was elected to end wars but who now finds himself stuck, reluctantly, in a new one in Iraq and a prolonged one in Afghanistan — and who badly wants to finish up both in two years, though that’s probably impossible. He’s also a president who won’t listen much to you, since he apparently has little intention of altering the White House’s tight grip on the national security apparatus, which was the bane not only of Hagel but his two Pentagon predecessors, Leon Panetta and Bob Gates.
Flournoy “doesn’t want to be a doormat, and I think they want a doormat,” said one former Defense Department official who worked there during Flournoy’s tenure. “I do not think they’re looking for someone more aggressive and independent.”
Added a Washington think tank expert who has worked with Hagel: “It sounds like the White House just wants a cheerleader for what’s going on.”
In other words, they want another Hagel, but with the appearance that significant change has taken place. Contrast that with the change made by Barack Obama’s predecessor after his sixth-year midterm “shellacking.” George Bush chose an outsider with plenty of political capital to challenge the prevailing strategies that had led the White House into a dead end in Iraq, Robert Gates, who stuck around for most of Obama’s first term as well. Rather than look for an aggressive and independent thinker to reverse the years of utter failure in national-security policy, the White House wants to double down on failure with Jeh Johnson or a technocrat without much political pull in Washington DC.
Who else would want a job where all of the blame would fall on his or her shoulders for a set of policies over which he or she would have little influence? One notable name threw his hat in the ring earlier today:
Why not? I’d take the job too, with one caveat:
— Ed Morrissey (@EdMorrissey) November 29, 2014
I argued in an earlier column that we’re a lot more likely to see a technocrat than a blatantly political pick, especially Johnson, for better or worse:
The technocrat model may be the answer for the lame-duck period of the Obama presidency in other areas, too. Technocrats make difficult targets, even in a hostile environment. Senate Republicans are not likely to block confirmations on national-security positions, but after Obama’s unilateral declaration on immigration, they will target other appointments from Obama in response to his bypassing of Congress.
Even without that, Republicans would be scrapping for a fight over overtly political nominees, and unfortunately for Obama, there will be a number of openings as his current appointees look for greener pastures than a Democratic administration pitted against a Congress controlled by the GOP. A reliance on experts rather than activists will give Obama the opening to make the changes he needs after his second midterm shellacking, and perhaps restore some confidence in the competency of his administration.
Not if the technocrats are brought in to execute the same failed policies that have exposed the incompetence of Obama and his inner circle. What they really need is fresh blood and a new vision, but it’s almost certain that they won’t abide the latter and so won’t look for the former.