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How Obama Responds to Intimidation

As Paul Pillar points out in the National Interest, at this point the stakes in the Hagel battle transcend anything to do with Chuck Hagel, and go the essence of Obama’s political effectiveness. The White House has floated Hagel’s name as a frontrunner for the Secretary of Defense job without actually nominating him, thus putting the senator in a sort of limbo where he is deprived of the opportunity to defend himself. This, Pillar reasons, seems a fairly typical Obama tactic–conserving political capital, picking one’s fights carefully, saving ammunition for other battles. But the President may be

acting without sufficient appreciation for how intimidation works. Intimidation feeds on itself, with successful intimidation encouraging more of the same and failures discouraging further attempts. Neither Chuck Hagel nor anyone else has a right to any cabinet post, but given how this matter has already evolved, if the president now does not nominate him for the defense job it will be universally seen as a caving in to the neocons and Netanyahuites. Mr. Obama will be politically weaker as a result. He will have lost political capital rather than having conserved it. And he will have encouraged more such intimidation in the future.

Conversely, standing up to the intimidators and pushing a Hagel nomination through to confirmation would improve his ability to battle against the same forces on other issues. Even if the White House did not plan it that way, it would be a political plus for the president.

Truth be told, it shouldn’t be a hard fight to win. After all, when one of the statements Hagel’s foes use against him is his assertion that he is a U.S. Senator, not an Israeli one, as if that’s supposed to be a bad thing, it really does seem as if the neocon-Likudnik  complex have bitten off far more than they actually can chew.

about the author

Scott McConnell is a founding editor of The American Conservative and the author of Ex-Neocon: Dispatches From the Post-9/11 Ideological Wars. Follow him on Twitter at @ScottMcConnell9.

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