Even for the court eunuchs of the palace media, that must be hard to type with a straight face: He seems to be all but entirely loathed by his own party. Nevertheless, he is technically a Republican, not to mention a bona fide war hero. Only Nixon can go to China, and only a pro-life, pro-gun, climate-denialist, homophobic, Strom Thurmond–loving, medal-draped Republican can go to the Pentagon and tell them to start clearing out their desks. Obama has picked a guy whose rhetoric is more anti-Pentagon than his own, and who, unlike most of the cabinet senators, has a record of executive experience that suggests he may well live up to it.
If he pulls it off, it’ll be a big part of Obama’s legacy. And, if he doesn’t, I’m sure the media will be happy to remind everyone that, oh well, Hagel was a Republican.
But beyond the politics is a real question. He’s not wrong to raise the question of Pentagon “bloat.” The United States has the most lavishly funded military on the planet, and what does it buy you? In the Hindu Kush, we’re taking twelve years to lose to goatherds with fertilizer.
Something is wrong with this picture. Indeed, something is badly wrong with the American way of war. And no one could seriously argue that, in the latest in the grim two-thirds-of-a-century roll call of America’s un-won wars, the problem is a lack of money or resources. Given its track record, why shouldn’t the Pentagon get a top-to-toe overhaul — or at least a cost-benefit analysis?
Just to be clear: I disagree with Hagel on Israel, on Iran, and on most everything else. But my colleagues on the right are in denial if they don’t think there are some very basic questions that need to be asked about the too-big-to-fail Department of Defense. Obama would like the U.S. military to do less. Some of us would like it to do more with less — more nimbly, more artfully. But, if the national-security establishment won’t acknowledge there’s even a problem, they’re unlikely to like the solutions imposed by others. “Petty” and “spiteful”? No. Obamacare’s other shoe.