When the 9/11 Commission investigated the attacks, it identified a series of problems and missteps that helped make the terrorism possible. Among them was an underappreciated personnel issue: Throughout the early months of the Bush/Cheney administration, there were vacancies in key national security positions requiring Senate confirmations.
It's impossible to know whether the attacks could've been prevented by qualified officials serving in these posts, but the point the 9/11 Commission hoped to make wasn't subtle: National security vacancies can be dangerous and policymakers should take steps to avoid them.
Twenty years after the attacks, the United States finds itself facing similar conditions – which by some measures are worse than they were in the runup to 9/11. The New York Times reported a few days ago, "Only 26 percent of President Biden's choices for critical Senate-confirmed national security posts have been filled, according to a new analysis by the Partnership for Public Service." For comparison purposes, note that 57 percent of key national security positions were filled ahead of the 2001 attacks.
There is, not surprisingly, a partisan political problem. A group of Republican senators, led in part by Texas' Ted Cruz and Florida's Rick Scott, have used procedural tactics to slow down the confirmation process for nominees tapped for a variety of foreign policy positions, including those who are supposed to fill national security jobs.
But it's a problem Missouri's Josh Hawley is eager to make worse. The Washington Post reported yesterday:
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) has pledged to hold up all of President Biden's nominations to the State Department and the Pentagon unless the top official at both departments resign in the wake of the chaotic U.S. exit from Afghanistan.
For those who may not be familiar with the confirmation process, it's important to emphasize that the Missouri Republican, perhaps best known as a champion of Donald Trump's efforts to overturn the 2020 election results, cannot block President Joe Biden's nominees indefinitely.
As the Post's report added, "Because Democrats control the Senate, Hawley can effectively only delay Biden's nominations, but his move will force Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) to go through procedural hurdles on the Senate floor, rather than move quickly with a pro forma vote that is more common for nominees to lower-profile posts."
Part of the problem with Hawley's political stunt is the practical impact: The United States would benefit from having qualified personnel in these national security positions, and thanks to his pointless antics, these confirmations will take far longer than they should, making an existing and avoidable problem worse.
Another obvious flaw is the GOP senator's self-defeating case: To hear Hawley tell it, the State and Defense Departments are responsible for important mistakes in Afghanistan. His solution is to keep the State and Defense Departments understaffed for as long as possible – as if this might help prevent future mistakes.
Making matters worse is Hawley's brazen hypocrisy. We are, after all, talking about a Republican who pushed for a rapid withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan when he thought it was Donald Trump's idea. Indeed, as recently as April, the senator was outraged by the Biden White House's plans to leave Afghanistan by September, not because Hawley wanted to maintain a military presence, but because the Democratic president wasn't ending the war fast enough.
For some reason, the Republican's attitudes "changed considerably" right around the time Biden did what Hawley said he wanted.
But even if we put all of these relevant concerns aside, let's also not overlook the obvious fact that the senator's over-the-top demands will go unmet. Remember, Hawley isn't just standing in the way of key confirmations as a stand-alone tantrum; Hawley says he'll relent if Secretary of State Antony Blinken resigns. And Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin resigns. And White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan resigns.
Hawley also wants Biden to resign, though that doesn't appear to be part of the senator's new stunt.
None of this will happen, no matter how long Hawley stomps his feet and folds his arms. Indeed, the fact remains that if anyone should be resigning in disgrace, it's the senator who's calling on others to resign in disgrace.