The Buzz

The Dumbest Argument against Hagel

Over at National Review, Michael Walsh makes a very weird argument against Chuck Hagel for secretary of defense:

His appointment would be “historic,” like everything else about the Obama presidency. Of course, in Hagel’s case that very “historic” element — that the former grunt would be the first enlisted man to head up DOD — is the same thing that ought to have disqualified him in the first place.

Daniel Larison rightly fires back, making the obvious rebuttal:

There is a perfectly good argument that military service in itself doesn’t prepare someone to run a large government department. Walsh doesn’t make that argument. He doesn’t even try. It is preposterous to say that military service—at any level—disqualifies someone from being Secretary of Defense.

There have been a lot of arguments made against Hagel since his name was first seriously floated for the position. Some are perfectly sensible—for example, that there were arguably better candidates out there, such as Michele Flournoy, John Hamre or Ashton Carter. Others—that Hagel supposedly is an “anti-Semite” or an “isolationist”—are frivolous. But the idea that previously being an enlisted man in the army “ought to have disqualified” Hagel from being nominated is perhaps the dumbest one yet. It’s akin to saying that former congressional staffers should be constitutionally banned from ever running for Congress, or that no one who has been a junior analyst at Goldman Sachs should ever be allowed to be Goldman’s CEO.

To be sure, as Larison points out, there is a case to be made that previous military service does not in and of itself prepare one to run the Department of Defense. But that is a far cry from saying that this service ought to be disqualifying. That is the point that Walsh makes, but he doesn’t even really try to make a substantive case for it. The closest he comes is when he says in a throwaway line that Hagel’s “view of the military was through the wrong end of the telescope.” The implication, one assumes, is that having witnessed combat firsthand might make Hagel more hesitant to recommend using armed force. In which case, that may well be a reason for hawks and those who cheer continued American interventions abroad to oppose Hagel. But it shouldn’t be for the rest of us.