Chuck Hagel — not a war time consigliere [With Comments by John]

Good news. Chuck Hagel is out as Secretary of Defense, or will be as soon as a successor is nominated and confirmed. Let’s hope that any effort by the Republican Senate to block the confirmation of Obama administration appointees will exempt the Secretary of Defense position for national security reasons.

The reason for Hagel’s ouster (let’s not take seriously the claim that he wanted out) is said to be that Hagel was selected to preside over the winding down of wars and the scaling back of the military. Reality intervened, and now DoD is going in a different direction.

In other words, Hagel is not a war time Secretary of Defense. Only an unfit president would nominate such a man for the job formerly known as Secretary of War.

The reality, though, is that Hagel was never any kind of Secretary of Defense. As Al Campanis might have said, he lacks the necessities.

Why, then, did Obama select him? I continue to believe that he was thumbing his nose at Israel and attempting to stick it to the so-called Israel lobby. After all, other than his nasty remarks about Israel, what did Hagel bring to the table? Yes, he is a Republican and a Vietnam vet. These were nice touches, but surely not sufficient reason to entrust him with supervision of our national defense.

There’s an obvious parallel between Hagel’s firing after the 2014 election and the sacking of Donald Rumsfeld by President Bush in 2006. Apparently, President Obama has finally learned that he can learn from his predecessor. Maybe as he looks at the White House portrait of “W,” Obama asks himself “what would George do?”

Rumsfeld’s firing preceded a reversal of Iraq policy. In Hagel’s case, Iraq policy has already been reversed, though (if we are lucky) it will be modified further. In this sense, the sacking of Hagel, unlike that of Rumsfeld, seems mainly cosmetic and political, rather than substantive.

But let’s not overthink this. Hagel was always the wrong man for the job; he was simply in over his head, as we have often said. The wonder is his selection, not his ouster.

Speculation about a successor centers around Michèle Flournoy, a former under secretary of defense, and Ashton Carter, a former deputy secretary of defense. They were the two candidates I had hoped Obama would select from when he replaced Leon Panetta. If Obama chooses either, then, barring the surprise emergence of disqualifying facts, the Senate should quickly confirm.

JOHN adds: Paul is clearly right in saying that the wonder was Hagel’s selection, not his ouster. He was a bizarre choice for Secretary of Defense. And if we compare his firing to that of Donald Rumsfeld, we can only say that the second time is farce.

Yet I think there is a bit more to be said, and Max Boot puts it well:

[T]he very reason [Hagel] was so expendable was because he had so little influence: Unlike Susan Rice, Ben Rhodes, or Valerie Jarrett, he was not a White House insider.

Instead Hagel (like General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) was the good soldier, plodding ahead to carry out the president’s orders without question–no matter how little sense those orders made. …

Indeed one of the few times that Hagel dared in public (or probably in private) to talk back to the president, he earned the ire of Obama and his loyalists for telling the truth. While Obama earlier this year was denigrating ISIS as the “JV team,” Hagel was calling them an “imminent threat to every interest we have” and saying “This is beyond anything we’ve seen.” As the Times drily notes, “White House officials later said they viewed those comments as unhelpful”–Washington code words for the fact that Obama’s top aides were infuriated by Hagel’s truth-telling.

In my view, there is zero reason to think that Hagel’s ouster is a sign of a new, rethought, more realistic Obama foreign policy. On the contrary, Obama and his cronies are probably glad to see him gone, for exactly the wrong reasons.

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