In the midst of the United States’ failed policy against the Islamic State (aka ISIS/ISIL) and an abrupt escalation of the U.S. war in Afghanistan, President Obama saw fit to fire Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, under the pretense that the latter resigned, and without a replacement ready to take over. (See “Obama’s ISIL strategy reexamined: air strikes ineffective; weak coalition“)
Note: The New York Times reports, Nov. 21, 2014, that Obama quietly expanded the authorization to use U.S. troops in Afghanistan to include offensive ops next year, despite his announcement last May that the U.S. military would have no combat role in Afghanistan next year. According to a Rasmussen Report poll, Obama’s expansion of the military’s role in the Afghan war has the approval of only 28% of likely voters.
Helene Cooper reports for The New York Times that on Nov. 24, 2014, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, the only Republican in Obama’s cabinet, “handed in his resignation” although “Mr. Hagel’s aides had maintained in recent weeks that he expected to serve the full four years as defense secretary.”
In so doing, Hagel became the first cabinet-level casualty of the post-midterm elections collapse of Obama’s Democratic majority in the Senate and the struggles of his national security team to respond to an onslaught of global crises. Hagel would remain in the job until his successor is confirmed by the Senate.
Hagel resign Obama sack Hagel? Below are some explanations:
1. Hagel’s poor job performance
Delays in transferring detainees from the military prison in Guantánamo Bay, according to unnamed Obama administration “aides.” (New York Times)
2. Personnel and policy conflict
Specifically Hagel’s dispute with national security adviser Susan Rice over Syria policy, according to the same unnamed “aides” who maintained that the threat from the “militant” (not Islamic or jihadist!) group Islamic State requires different skills from those that Hagel, “who often struggled to articulate a clear viewpoint and was widely viewed as a passive defense secretary,” was brought in to employ. “The next couple of years will demand a different kind of focus,” one administration official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. (New York Times)
3. Hagel as scapegoat
“The Beltway clerks and pundits tell us Hagel is a political scapegoat, a sacrifice to Obama’s electoral drubbing…. After six years, the public is painfully aware that made-for-media drama, especially personalizing drama, is the sine qua non of Obama administration political operations.” Remember video-maker Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, who was used as a scapegoat by the Obama administration for the Benghazi attack? (Washington Examiner)
“He was brought in to oversee America’s drawdown of global involvement in the post-Iraq War era — the withdrawal from Afghanistan and the cutting of the defense budget…. Hagel cannot be blamed for the lack of diligence Obama showed when withdrawing from Iraq, which created the current Islamic State problem. Hagel’s predecessor, Leon Panetta, has credibly blamed Obama himself for that. Hagel did not squander the costly gains made by a decade of U.S. military involvement in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Hagel did not get to make the final call on releasing Guantanamo detainees, including two United Nations war crime suspects, without following the law and giving Congress advance notice. Hagel did not draw a red line in the Syrian sand that he had no intention of enforcing. Nor can Hagel be blamed for other foreign policy problems that Obama has created for himself, including the evident loss of respect for America by both enemies such as Russia and erstwhile allies such as Egypt, Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Poland.” (Washington Examiner)
Although Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) was a vocal opponent of Hagel’s nomination in 2013, in an interview with KFYI radio in Phoenix, the senator defended Hagel from being characterized as not being able to handle the job.
“Already White House people are leaking ‘well he wasn’t up to the job,’ well believe me he was up to the job it was the job he was given where he really was never really brought into that real tight circle inside the White House that makes all the decisions which has put us into the incredible debacle that we’re in today throughout the world,” McCain said.
McCain also praised Hagel for characterizing ISIS as the greatest threat in the Middle East, while Obama was calling them members of a JV team. “We’ve had our disagreements but Chuck Hagel is an honorable man,” McCain added. (Breitbart)
Hagel’s parting shot
In an interview with Charlie Rose on CBS This Morning, conducted at the Pentagon days before his “resignation,” Hagel made two key points that serve as accusations that Obama is mismanaging the U.S. military and the ISIS threat.
1. In the past couple of years, Hagel has warned that defense budget cuts implemented under President Obama were hurting readiness and capability. About the U.S. military’s declining capability, Hagel said, “I am worried about it, I am concerned about it, Chairman Dempsey is, the chiefs are, every leader of this institution,” pointedly leaving both President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden’s names out of his list of officials who are concerned. Hagel said that the Congress and the American people need to know what while the U.S. military remains the strongest, best trained and most motivated in the world, its lead is being threatened because of policies being implemented now.
Hagel went on to note that a good leader prepares their institution for future success, saying that “the main responsibility of any leader is to prepare your institution for the future. If you don’t do that, you’ve failed. I don’t care how good you are, how smart you are, any part of your job. If you don’t prepare your institution, you’ve failed.” The “how smart you are” line may be a veiled shot at President Obama, who basks in a media image that he is a cerebral, professorial president.
2. Hagel charged that Obama’s handling of the ISIS threat is now indirectly assisting Syrian dictator Bashar Assad.
While President Obama has downplayed the ISIS threat, even calling the group “jayvee” as it rose to power, Hagel warned that it is a threat unlike any other we have ever faced. “We’ve never seen an organization like ISIL that is so well-organized, so well-trained, so well-funded, so strategic, so brutal, so completely ruthless. We have never seen anything quite like that in one institution. And then they blend in ideology — which will eventually lose, we get that — and social media. The sophistication of their social media program is something that we’ve never seen before. You blend all of that together, that is an incredibly powerful new threat.” (PJMedia)
Mark Landler of the New York Times has these words of caution about the removal of Chuck Hagel:
Mr. Hagel never penetrated the inner circle of aides around the president, according to current and former officials. He spoke little in important policy meetings….
By forcing out Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, President Obama … does not address deeper doubts about the team’s capacity to deal with problems from the Islamic State to the Ebola outbreak…. If anything, Mr. Hagel’s exit may represent the final triumph of a White House-centric approach to national security. With the president’s core team intact, and none of the candidates to succeed Mr. Hagel showing the independent streak of Mr. Obama’s first-term Pentagon chief, Robert M. Gates, the White House seems likely to keep a tight leash on foreign policy for the remainder of Mr. Obama’s presidency….
“Not only does the Hagel ouster not address the internal problems in the White House, but it’s also essentially a denial that the problem goes deeper,” said David Rothkopf, an expert on the National Security Council who just published a book, “National Insecurity.”
It is in light of Rothkopf’s grim observation that a recent article for Stratfor by its founder and chairman George Friedman takes on significance. Calling Obama’s a failed presidency, Friedman writes:
We have now entered the final phase of Barack Obama’s presidency, and like those of several other presidents since World War II, it is ending in what we call a state of failure…. When the president’s support has fragmented to the point that he is fighting to recover his base, I considered that a failed presidency — particularly when Congress is in the hands of the opposition…. Historically, when the president’s popularity rating has dipped to about 37 percent, his position has been unrecoverable.
So what about the future — Obama’s remaining two years as a lameduck president? Friedman has these sobering words:
This does not mean that the president can’t act. It simply means that it is enormously more difficult to act than before….
The president has few domestic options. Whatever Obama does with his power domestically, Congress can vote to cut funding, and if the act is vetoed, the president puts Congressional Democrats in mortal danger. The place where he can act — and this is likely the place Obama is least comfortable acting — is in foreign policy. There, the limited deployment of troops and diplomatic initiatives are possible….
The failed president frequently tries to entice negotiation by increasing the military pressure on the enemy. Truman, Johnson and George W. Bush all took this path while seeking to end their wars. In no case did it work, but they had little to lose politically by trying.
Therefore, if we follow historical patterns, Obama will now proceed slowly and ineffectively to increase military operations in Syria and Iraq, while raising non-military pressure on Russia, or potentially initiating some low-level military activities in Ukraine. The actions will be designed to achieve a rapid negotiating process that will not happen. The presidency will shift to the other party, as it did with Truman, Johnson and George W. Bush. Thus, if patterns hold true, the Republicans will retake the presidency. This is not a pattern unknown to Congress, which means that the Democrats in the legislature will focus on running their own campaigns as far away from Obama and the next Democratic presidential candidate as possible.
The period of a failed presidency is therefore not a quiet time. The president is actively trying to save his legacy in the face of enormous domestic weakness. Other countries, particularly adversaries, see little reason to make concessions to failed presidents, preferring to deal with the next president instead. These adversaries then use military and political oppositions abroad to help shape the next U.S. presidential campaign in directions that are in their interests….
The last two years of a failed presidency are mostly about foreign policy and are not very pleasant to watch.
- President and Commander In Chief Barack Obama missed 6 of 10 daily intelligence briefings
- Former U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates: Obama incompetent; suspicious of military
- Obama ignored advice of military & CIA against Bergdahl prisoner swap
- US Marine Corps commandant openly blasts CIC Obama
- 70% of active military oppose ground troops in Iraq because they distrust their commander-in-chief
- Dir. of U.S. Navy Intelligence sacked for warning about China’s aggressive plans in East China Sea
- Obama’s Pentagon lays off thousands of military officers, incl. active duty
- Independent panel calls Obama’s downsizing of military ‘dangerous’
- U.S. official says Army’s industrial base in ‘death spiral’
- Commander says U.S. military not prepared for coming cyber war
- Obama admin actively recruits transgenders for the military