More Reactions to Hagel Resignation

The evidence that the resignation of Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel was anything but “mutual” continues to pour out. Author Mark Perry writes in an essay in Politico Magazine that, according to one unnamed senior officer, the beginning of the end for Hagel was his two-page memo to Susan Rice on Syria policy that he sent to the White House in mid-October. Hagel wrote the memo, according to this officer, because he couldn’t “live with the ambiguity of an ambiguous policy,” a view apparently shared by many senior military officers. In the end, though, it was the NSC’s “micromanagement” of the military’s ISIL fight that most disturbed the Secretary of Defense and top brass. “It’s a hell of a thing,” a top military officer explained to Perry last week, “but the chief targeting officer for Iraq is Susan Rice. It’s very frustrating.”

In a similar vein is a commentary by Paul Bonicelli in Foreign Policy. Bonicelli, who identifies himself as someone who endorsed G.W. Bush’s invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, attributes Hagel’s firing to this: The military deals with hard on-the-ground realities, and Hagel insisted on bringing these realities to a White House that wasn’t interested in them.

“Hagel, who works in a building devoid of campaign aides, appreciated these realities and what they meant for our national security. Obama, who is rarely ever separated from political people and their constant curating of him as a political figure, did not appreciate these realities. Rather, these events are irritating intrusions on his more important work of saving his domestic agenda and the one all-important foreign policy agenda item, a deal with Iran,” writes Bonicelli. The important thing to be noted, he goes on, “is that this forced resignation is emblematic of the Obama presidency’s flaws: cliquishness, groupthink, and permanent campaign mode. No matter what one thinks of Hagel’s qualifications, performance or intellect, the simple fact is that he is an official who insisted on telling the White House what it did not want to hear.”

The Wall Street Journal, meanwhile, posted an article Tuesday reporting that Hagel was frustrated by the indecisiveness of Obama’s national security team and their “endless gab sessions,” and that “he simply didn’t click” with Susan Rice and other top WH advisors.

“The White House fears what the Pentagon is going to say and do. The Pentagon fears how the White House will react. Both sides are nervous of the other,” said an unnamed longtime Pentagon official. “It has persisted through three secretaries now —Gates, Panetta and Hagel — and it will probably persist through a fourth secretary.”

The WSJ says what Hagel prizes is policy clarity, which was lacking in the Obama White House. It says that he wanted a firmer policy against Putin and Russia, viewing Moscow, not the Middle East, as the most serious long-term threat to international security. The WSJ also confirms that Hagel never pushed for a policy of ousting Assad; he was warning of the consequences of leaving the policy unclear.

The Los Angeles Times, quoting former Assistant Secretary of Defense Lawrence Korb, now resident at the Center for American Progress in Washington, reports that Obama is looking for a “more forceful, articulate” military leader for the next two years, who can better explain the Administration’s policies to Congress.

“The president clearly wants someone who can be more forceful and win a public debate defending his policies,” said Korb. “He wants someone who looks good on the Sunday talk shows.” Obama also wants someone who is comfortable working with his national security staff; Hagel’s two predecessors, Robert Gates and Leon Panetta, weren’t, both complaining about White House micromanagement of the military.

“What’s most needed is a secretary who will challenge assumptions and ask tough questions about policies for issues like [Islamic State] and Afghanistan, and help avert group-think,” said Stephen D. Biddle, a military expert with the nonpartisan Council on Foreign Relations. “I’m not sure that’s what the White House wants, though.”

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