Remember almost two years ago when former Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee for confirmation hearings to become the next Secretary of Defense. Some of us cringed as we watched and listened to the hapless, but likable Hagel state that he would not be making policy. How prescient were his words now that the White House has howitzered his derriere from the Secretary’s office.
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel was canned this morning, resigning “under pressure” from the White House. Rule #1, Chuck, never make your boss look bad, which is what the amiable Chuck Hagel did on several recent occasions, notably calling ISIS a “significantly worse threat” than what had been witnessed before in the Middle East. This flew in the face of the earlier “JV” description from our cerebral, all-knowing President.
Chuck Hagel spoke the truth as he knew it, as he’d been briefed from Defense/CIA reports and consultations with his generals. The current phony war, hurriedly implemented in response to the public outrage over the brutal beheadings of Americans by “Jihadi John”, must have been particularly irksome to the former Vietnam veteran, as he saw America’s blood and treasure amidst years of fighting, being squandered by the decisions from the likes of Obama and his National Security team headed by the enormously (in)competent Susan Rice.
Chuck Hagel’s selection and nomination came on the heels of the tenure of Leon Panetta and before him, Bob Gates, a holdover from the Bush Administration. Hagel didn’t have the experience nor the gravitas of the two former Defense secretaries. Managing the Pentagon infrastructure, budget and bureaucracy is not for the faint-hearted. Hagel’s problem was that he didn’t have persona necessary to understand Pentagon culture and language, which fed into his inability to craft a cohesive cadre of generals who trusted him to understand defense policies, let alone have their backs in the face of White House politicizing, bumbling, and worst of all, micro-management by the less than stellar, re-arrange the deck chairs, national security team.
While Hagel must have been regarded as a light weight even by the White House, put in the Secretary’s office to implement their bidding, clearly he threw them a curve ball and may have the last laugh after all. Speaking in a Charlie Rose interview, Hagel (h/t PJ Tatler), when asked about where Obama is taking the US military said, to paraphrase, 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.
Secretary Hagel, with all due respect, was in over his head. He reminds one of the uncle who fought the war in the infantry, and then believed he could Monday morning quarterback the war with the generals. Hagel wasn’t the right man for the position, but then Obama didn’t want another Gates or Panetta. He wanted a foot soldier who would take marching orders. Hagel’s biggest fault was that he let himself be used for that purpose. And now, he’s the fall guy for an Administration who’s anointed him scapegoat under the guise of Ebola and ISIS unpreparedness.
With that said, he probably did the best he could with what he knew how to do.
Being canned is not necessarily a bad thing. Secretary Hagel will learn this after he leaves his position and, like Panetta, might give interviews about his time in office and the disarray in which he worked. Will he? Depends upon whether he decides to be Secretary Hagel or Sergeant Hagel.