Will President Obama still choose Chuck Hagel, the suddenly embattled former Nebraska senator, as Leon Panetta's successor at the Pentagon? Several different comments came back to haunt Hagel since his name surfaced as the "likely" cabinet nominee, but over the long holiday weekend the opposition expanded from familiar Republican faces to a growing chorus. On Meet the Press, New York senator Chuck Schumer declined to say whether he endorsed Hagel's nomination, and while Politico's Mike Allen is already calling Hagel "toast," The Atlantic's Robert Wright and others quite rightly say the decision is still "in Obama's hands."
Still, Hagel's foes have planted enough doubt to make the confirmation process tenuous, maybe even impossible. It's "fair" to say he's looking at other candidates, National Journal reports. So if the president looks elsewhere, who are the alternatives? According to The Hill, Obama has two names in his back pocket, should Hagel's nomination continue its downward slope: Michèle Flournoy and Ash Carter, both veterans of the current Department of Defense administration. Flournoy previously served as the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy between 2009 and early 2012. She also co-founded the Center for a New American Security, a sort of joint-operation (as described by Michael Hastings) between the media and the Department of Defense. Carter, meanwhile, currently serves as the Deputy Secretary of Defense, but early speculation has focused almost exclusively on Flournoy. The New Republic's Molly Redden points out:
Flournoy's apparent supporters now include the Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol (who essentially argued that she wouldn't be as objectionable as Hagel), Romney foreign policy adviser Dan Senor, and Bush Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz ...
Redden points to this tweet of Senor's:
None of these people, it should also be pointed out, work for President Obama. And President Obama, as administration told The New York Times well-sourced David Sanger regarding the now official nomination of John Kerry as Secretary of State, had "some discomfort" about a round of cabinet appointments with as high a percentage of old white men as the new House leadership. Flounoy would be the first female defense secretary.
Hagel's nomination may still prevail, of course. Four former National Security Advisors wrote a letter to The Washington Post on Christmas titled "In defense of Chuck Hagel," and today's Thomas Friedman column defends Hagel's stances toward Middle East policy and concludes that, while Hagel is indeed "out of the mainstream," such is "exactly why his voice would be valuable right now."