Why Obama Should Not Pick a Republican Secretary of Defense

I like Chuck Hagel and Richard Lugar. They are exactly the kind of Republicans that I was in favor of when I was a Republican. I found out later (as I got more into politics) that their domestic policies did not match mine at all and they rarely had the courage to buck their party on anything else.

Chuck Hagel talked a mean game during the second Bush term, but still voted with the president a frightening number of times. In fact, until he made a clean break on the Iraq War toward the end, no Senator voted with Bush more faithfully than Chuck Hagel.

So, why do I like Hagel and Lugar (who is a quieter and even less courageous version of Hagel on foreign policy)? Hagel did at least publicly break with Bush at the end, which is hell of a lot better than almost all of his colleagues. And when he spoke out against the administration, it wasn't just on Iraq but on their entire misguided foreign policy, including this preposterous idea of not speaking to your enemies.

And when you read his speeches -- including the one right before the invasion of Iraq (which, as usual, he voted for after making a very good case against) -- he exhibits a deep understanding of foreign policy. If he had the courage of his convictions throughout both Bush terms, he would be one of my favorite Senators on this issue.

Lugar has also had the right priorities from the outset, including concentrating on loose nukes in Russia and focusing on Afghanistan. But his meekness makes Hagel look like a lion. But the bottom line is that if Obama is looking for foreign policy or military advice from Republicans, he couldn't have picked two better Senators.

So, why am I saying that Obama should not pick either one of them as Secretary of Defense? Because it sends a very bad message -- that Republicans are strong on defense and that Democratic presidents have to rely on Republicans to make decisions on matters involving the military.

This is already a very damaging idea that exists in conventional wisdom. Bill Clinton reinforced this when he picked Republican William Cohen as his Secretary of Defense. Doing it again would be a significant political mistake.

This isn't just about politics, either. The Republicans overall now are hideous in matters of defense and foreign policy. Encouraging their perceived supremacy in those topics is a very bad idea for the country. We might know the difference between Chuck Hagel and Mitt Romney, but will the average voter? Or will they see them both as Republicans who are "strong on defense"?

Don't get me wrong, I actually do believe in the idea of bipartisanship that Obama wants to implement. And by bipartisanship I don't mean passing Norm Mineta around. I'm talking about real participation in the government. So, here's a revolutionary idea -- pick a Republican for Secretary of State.

Sure, John Kerry or Bill Richardson (or about eight other people within the Democratic Party) would make excellent Secretaries of State. But the advantage of picking a Republican is that it also forces the Republican Party to emphasize diplomacy -- in fact, to be proud of their diplomacy. It guides both parties in the right direction. At the same time, it doesn't show political weakness. No one doubts the Democrats are strongly in favor of diplomacy.

I would offer up the same two candidates for this position -- Hagel and Lugar. Partly because they are pretty much the only two sane Republicans left in the country. Obviously Obama wouldn't make the mistake of going within miles of picking a neo-con or hard right-winger for a position like that. Hagel and Lugar understand where this country has to go on foreign policy. And with a president who can take action for them, so they don't have to muster up the political courage, they can head this country and their party down a better path.