Somewhat surprisingly, the first member of Barack Obama’s cabinet to resign after the midterm elections is Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel. Although nominally a Republican, Hagel’s appointment encountered quite a bit of resistance from Republicans in Congress who didn’t think he was up to the job, and now he’s gone after less than two years on the job.
According to the New York Times, while Hagel’s departure is being officially portrayed as an amiable “resignation,” it was something of an assisted career suicide:
The president, who is expected to announce Mr. Hagel???s resignation in a Rose Garden appearance on Monday, made the decision to ask his defense secretary ??? the sole Republican on his national security team ??? to step down last Friday after a series of meetings over the past two weeks, senior administration officials said.
The officials described Mr. Obama???s decision to remove Mr. Hagel, 68, as a recognition that the threat from the Islamic State would require a different kind of skills than those that Mr. Hagel was brought on to employ. A Republican with military experience who was skeptical about the Iraq war, Mr. Hagel came in to manage the Afghanistan combat withdrawal and the shrinking Pentagon budget in the era of budget sequestration.
But now ???the next couple of years will demand a different kind of focus,??? one administration official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. He insisted that Mr. Hagel was not fired, saying that the defense secretary initiated discussions about his future two weeks ago with the president, and that the two men mutually agreed that it was time for him to leave.
But Mr. Hagel???s aides had maintained in recent weeks that he expected to serve the full four years as defense secretary. His removal appears to be an effort by the White House to show that it is sensitive to critics who have pointed to stumbles in the government???s early response to several national security issues, including the Ebola crisis and the threat posed by the Islamic State.
Three major reasons for Hagel’s departure can be sussed out from the NYT article, and other pieces popping up this morning:
1. He’s getting thrown under the bus as a scapegoat for the Administration’s many security failures.
2. The Obamanoids think he’s not a sufficiently energetic cheerleader for the President’s policies.
3. He’s got serious problems with the President’s policies, most ominously those yet to come, and he can no longer swallow his discontent.
Washington insiders will spend the next couple of days arguing over which of those political flames ultimately cooked Hagel’s goose, and how sudden his departure really is – the current storyline holds that it’s been in the works for a while, but as the Times mentions, his aides seemed to think he was in for the long haul just a few weeks ago.
CBS News has sources that say Hagel was “fed up with micromanagement from the White House, while the White House was unhappy that Hagel was not a vocal defender of the Administration’s policies”:
His resignation comes as the U.S. is tackling several crises abroad, ranging from the rapid rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in the Middle East, to ongoing international talks to curb Iran’s nuclear program to the spread of Ebolain West Africa.
In an interview last week, Hagel told CBS This Morning co-host Charlie Rose that Mr. Obama has faced more trying challenges than any of his predecessors.
“What bothers me the most, concerns me the most is, are we going to be — our leaders, all of us together — are we going to be able to get through this time, which is a very defining time and a difficult time,” Hagel said when asked about his biggest concerns. “I told the president not too long ago, I don’t know of a time that has been more difficult to be president of the United States or lead in this country than right now.”
But he also seemed uncertain about his role in that fight. When Rose asked him whether he had the confidence of the president, Hagel responded, “I don’t think I’d be here if I didn’t. But you’d have to ask him that.”
Given Obama’s nonchalant attitude toward national security issues, it’s not surprising Hagel would feel a bit confused about the solidity of his relationship with the White House. Unnamed “senior defense officials” told NBC News bluntly that Hagel “wasn’t up to the job,” even as other Administration officials maintained the pretense that Hagel was cheerfully setting sail for new horizons after a job well done. The inside dirt dished to NBC makes it sound very much like Hagel is being offered to the gods of the Beltway as a ritual sacrifice by Obama to signal a new direction in foreign policy:
Another senior administration official said that Hagel has been discussing a departure from the White House “for several weeks.”
“Over the past two years, Secretary Hagel helped manage an intense period of transition for the United States Armed Forces, including the drawdown in Afghanistan, the need to prepare our forces for future missions, and tough fiscal choices to keep our military strong and ready,” the official said. “Over nearly two years, Secretary Hagel has been a steady hand, guiding our military through this transition, and helping us respond to challenges from ISIL to Ebola. In October, Secretary Hagel began speaking with the President about departing the Administration given the natural post-midterms transition time.”
Multiple sources also said that Hagel was originally brought to the job to wind down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but, as the fight against the Islamic State ramped up, he was not as well matched for the post.
“Rather than winding down two wars, we???re winding up,??? said one source close to Hagel and top Pentagon officials.
Translation: Barack Obama was dead wrong about Afghanistan and ISIS, and he really needs somebody else to take the heat for that. Since Hagel has seemed less than enchanted with Obama policy in those theaters, he’s a logical choice to soak up the blame for it. Hopefully the public will forget whose idea it was to slip Hagel into the post he suddenly seems so unsuited for.
There’s also the possibility that Hagel couldn’t make his peace with Obama’s Iran policy. Back in May, Hagel was standing next to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem and speaking of “the United States’ commitment to ensuring Iran does not get a nuclear weapon, and that America will do what we must to live up to that commitment.”
To put it mildly, that’s not Obama’s plan. It never really was, but all pretense to the contrary will be slipping away over the coming year. The White House just got caught calling Netanyahu a “chickens**t” behind his back, because the Obama Administration was able to intimidate him out of taking action against the Iranian nuclear program. Next up will be Obama’s big announcement of a fabulous new deal guaranteeing peace in our time and giving away the store to Iran, followed shortly by Iran’s detonation of the nuclear weapon Obama swore they gave up on developing, a detonation that might not take place within the borders of Iran. Perhaps not coincidentally, along with Hagel’s resignation came word that Iran was just given another seven-month extension after negotiations failed to meet an important deadline… seven months during which the mullahs can still access the $700 million in monthly sanctions relief they were given. Hagel might not want to be a part of all that, and he’d gone as far as he could voicing mild discontent with Obama policies while trying to serve as their loyal executor.
Update: After faithfully executing Obama’s orders to pull out of Afghanistan, and sharing some of the heat for what critics described as a reckless withdrawal, Hagel might not have been enchanted with Obama quietly beefing up the American military presence over the weekend.
The L.A. Times amusingly headlined its story on this development “Obama Confronts Need For Broader U.S. Military Role In Afghanistan.” Confronts? He issued the orders very quietly, and hoped nobody would notice.
Senior officials familiar with the president’s decision, which was made in recent weeks, say that in approving continued U.S. ground operations and airstrikes in Afghanistan after the end of this year, Obama was clear that he was not granting permission for large-scale combat operations.
“These authorities ensure we can protect our forces and our coalition partners, support the [Afghan security forces] in emergencies and continue the fight against Al Qaeda,” a senior military official said. “This is not a license for offensive combat operations against the Taliban just because we still have U.S. capabilities in the country.”
It is, however, a clear indication that the U.S. role in Afghanistan after the end of the year will not be limited to training Afghan forces and conducting occasional small raids against the remnants of Al Qaeda, which is how White House officials had been portraying the post-2014 mission.
American forces will be able to carry out missions against Taliban insurgents and other militant groups that pose a threat to U.S. troops or allies, despite Obama’s vow this year that the U.S. combat role in Afghanistan was coming to an end.
Sounds like this decision was made at roughly the same time the White House started telling Chuck Hagel to think about spending more time with his family.
Update: The downward revision of Hagelian history has already begun. Just this morning, he was a swell guy who did a heckuva job, and Barack Obama would be eternally grateful for the noble service he cheerfully rendered. By lunchtime, we had Senator John McCain blasting the White House for launching a whisper campaign to defame Hagel, as reported by Fox News:
McCain spoke following a Rose Garden press conference at which Hagel stood stiffly while Obama announced he would be stepping down. Although McCain, who served in the Senate with Hagel from 1996-2008, opposed his fellow Vietnam veteran’s appointment to defense secretary, he said administration sources were wrong to assail Hagel on his way out the door.
???Already White House people are leaking, ???Well, he wasn???t up to the job,???” McCain said. “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 noted that Hagel characterized the Islamic State as the greatest threat in the Middle East, while Obama was calling them the jayvee (junior varisty) team less than a year ago. He also criticized Obama for failing in areas like the Middle East, Ukraine, and responding to a newly aggressive China.
???We???ve had our disagreements but Chuck Hagel is an honorable man,??? McCain added.
I hope McCain wasn’t honestly expecting anything better from the gang of teenagers currently running the White House. We’ll be lucky if they’re not posting snotty comments on Hagel’s Facebook page by the end of the day, or maybe revising his Wikipedia entry to call him a weasel for refusing to fully support President Obama’s glorious agenda.