Talk about understatement. That’s like the last soldier on the roof of the Saigon embassy saying the Vietnam War might not be going our way.
It’s not as if anyone ever really thought Hagel was all that qualified to begin with. After his confirmation hearing, Sen. John McCain concluded, “Nothing in Sen. Hagel’s background indicates that he would effectively manage the Department of Defense.”
Now, it seems, even the White House agrees. Hagel isn’t skilled at managing the war against ISIS terrorists in Iraq.
What’s shocking is that the Obama administration apparently never considered the ability to fight wars as a necessary skill for a defense secretary.
That gets to the real root of the problem: our commander-in-chief. No one knew who was really going to be calling the shots when Obama was first elected in 2008. Turned out, regardless of having zero expertise or experience, the president decided he would serve as the decider-in-chief. And America has been living with the consequences.
The National Security Council staff has ballooned under Obama, a sure sign that he and his closet cabinet are trying to run the world from 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
All the major strategic strategies, reports and decisions issued by the Pentagon have been little more than rubber stamps for Obama. They clearly reflect his desire to do less in the world with a smaller and less capable military.
Even such “competent” cabinet secretaries as Robert Gates and Leon Panetta at Defense and Hillary Clinton at State were little more than enablers, helping the president get to a bad place more quickly.
His resulting accomplishments speak for themselves. From Libya to Syria, from Iraq to Ukraine, Obama has piled up an unbroken record of failure after failure. Even Canada is angry with the White House over the Keystone pipeline.
It didn’t matter much that Hagel lacked the capacity to lead the Pentagon. Obama just wanted someone to take orders and shut off the lights.
But after a summer of foreign-policy chaos, followed by an autumn of more bad news, even an indifferent president could no longer ignore the bad press or shrug off international pressure over the tragic failure of US policy in Iraq.
So it looks as if Obama has done what he always does when failure sits down at his doorstep. He changes the story. He shifts the blame. Case in point: The White House “ran” the response to Ebola out of the National Security Council. But when the critics started piling on, Obama simply changed ties, appointing an Ebola czar in hopes that shuffling the deck would buy time for the story to die down.
Hagel was an easy target. No one will miss him at the helm of the Pentagon. He made few friends in Congress. At the recent Reagan Defense Forum held at the presidential library in Simi, Calif., his “keynote” address was largely written off as an embarrassment by the who’s-who of the national security community in attendance. Even before Hagel spoke, a panel with former Defense Secretaries Gates and Panetta widely criticized the administration’s defense policies.
Obama has been painfully reluctant to change course, on his misguided foreign-policy and defense decisions, or to even admit past mistakes. He still contends that the “Russian Reset,” the intervention in Libya and the 2009 withdrawal from Iraq were all the right moves.
Given that track record, the chances that he’ll use the appointment of a new defense secretary as opportunity to launch a new and improved defense policy are pretty slim.
- James Jay Carafano is The Heritage Foundation’s vice president for national security and foreign policy research.
Originally appeared in The New York Post