Yesterday, President Obama pretty much told the world what to expect from the White House for national security and foreign policy for the second term: more of what it gave the globe in the first term.
The President nominated former Senator Chuck Hagel (R–NE) for Secretary of Defense. He picked National Security Council staffer John Brennan for director of the CIA. Obama had already tapped Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair John Kerry (D–MA) for Secretary of State. All three have been cheerleaders for the White House since the first inauguration. Together, the three nominations are pretty strong indicators that the President has no interest in changing course.
Toward the top of the new Senate’s to-do list will be confirmation hearings for the top three spots on President Obama’s second-term national security team. Confirmation hearings are among Washington’s favorite “blood sport.” The real question is always whose blood they will be out for.
Typically, when nominees are first announced, the media tend to fixate on the nominees and what personal issues or views might make good fodder for the upcoming confirmation fight. This round certainly looks typical. Hagel in particular has taken his share of early shots. But likely as not, the President would not have nominated any of these candidates if he did not think he could muster the requisite number of votes for confirmation—not a very high bar, since all he needs is all the Democrats and a handful of Republicans.
Absent some sort of Susan Rice–like meltdown, what the hearings are likely to be about—and perhaps rightly so—are assessing the President’s foreign policy and national security record over the past four years and where that is likely to take us in the years ahead.
On those subjects, there is a lot for the Senators to talk about. The Obama Doctrine—a small military, outsourcing security to international organizations, and disengaging wherever possible—is in full implementation mode.
Each of the three nominees is going to have to explain how withdrawing America from the world stage and leading from way behind is going to make America safer.
As Secretary of State, Kerry in particular is going to have explain how the White House is going to follow through on President Obama’s road to zero nuclear weapons—a strategy that is actually making nuclear war more likely. He will have to explain why a more prudent course doesn’t make more sense.
Brennan, who is up for the CIA post, will have to justify why the Senate should have faith in Obama’s counterterrorism strategy, which Brennan helped author, when there are clear signs that it’s not working and that there are better options.
Hagel will have to defend Obama’s budget-driven defense strategy, which is not robust enough to protect all of the U.S.’s vital national interests. Based on the Pentagon’s own assessments, it is pretty clear that the Administration is already compromising on defense.