Outgoing Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, who was lionized and celebrated when he became the most ardent Republican against the Bush policy in Iraq, has learned about the limits of progressive adoration.
Hagel’s appointment at Defense met with strong opposition from his own party, and he was confirmed with the slimmest margin of votes for any defense secretary. He reportedly is no organizational genius, which would be a severe handicap in running the vast department.
But the real reason for Hagel’s only barely ceremonious departure from the Obama department may be that he listened to generals and thus deviated from the president on what to do about ISIS. Hagel reportedly sent memos urging a change in direction in Middle Eastern policy.
The president seems to want to do as little as possible, which becomes more difficult if you have a defense secretary admitting that ISIS is a threat “beyond anything we’ve ever seen.” So, as he became a thorn in the side of the Bush administration, Hagel became the same for the Obama administration.
Hagel’s departure probably means almost nothing as the people the Wall Street Journal today dubs Obama’s “tenderfoot Talleyrands” will continue to advise the president in the formulation of foreign policy. The Wall Street Journal explains:
Why does national security adviser Susan Rice still have a job? Or spinner-in-chief Ben Rhodes ? Mr. Hagel was hired in part because Mr. Obama believed he would take orders from these visionaries. But as the world turned darker, the Pentagon chief began to represent the views of the generals who are increasingly worried about U.S. security.
[Hagel's] worst sin appears to have been sending a memo in October pointing out that the President had to clarify his Syria policy for his campaign against Islamic State to succeed. Mr. Hagel was reflecting the views of senior Pentagon brass.
Mr. Hagel has since been vindicated as the U.S. has watched while Bashar Assad ’s government tries to wipe out the Free Syrian Army rebels we are training to be our allies, and Turkey keeps a distance from the coalition because we won’t help to oust Assad. But telling the truth in this Administration gets you a scolding from Vice President Valerie Jarrett, and on Tuesday White House leakers were saying Mr. Hagel wasn’t creative enough in providing security options. The options this White House seems to want are those that provide the appearance of solving problems without having to solve them. …
Mr. Hagel’s departure might matter if it means that President Obama recognizes the dangers he faces in his last two years. Everywhere we go we keep hearing the same phrase—that rogues believe they now have a “two-year window” to press their gains until a new President takes office.
Some presidents realize after midterms disastrous to their party that changes are in order. Declaring that he was listening to the people who didn’t vote, President Obama instead is taking a victory lap and acting more like an elected monarch than a president.