Hagel, who challenged Obama on ISIL strategy, resigns

Here’s today’s news. The president said all the obligatory things about the Defense secretary’s service to his country, starting as a grunt in Vietnam.

But I worry about what seems to lie behind this change. This is from an Oct. 31 report:

Washington (CNN) — Earlier this month, while on an trip to Latin America to discuss climate change, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagelsat down and wrote a highly private, and very blunt memo to National Security Advisor Susan Rice about U.S. policy toward Syria.

It was a detailed analysis, crafted directly by Hagel “expressing concern about overall Syria strategy,” a senior U.S. official tells CNN. The official directly familiar with the contents declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter….

The focus of the memo was “we need to have a sharper view of what to do about the Assad regime,” the official said. The official refused to provide additional details, but did not disagree with the notion that Hagel feels the U.S. is risking its gains in the war against ISIS if adjustments are not made.

Some analysts have pointed out US airstrikes in Syria against ISIS can benefit the Assad regime which also opposes ISIS. Hagel’s concerns are not related to the Pentagon effort to train and equip moderate Syrian forces, something he still strong supports the official said.

What concerns me is that a guy willing to challenge the president is leaving, while the Susan Rices of the world — all too eager to give voice to approved talking points, even when they’re not true — remain.

12 thoughts on “Hagel, who challenged Obama on ISIL strategy, resigns

  1. Brad Warthen Post author

    Lindsey Graham on the subject:

    Graham on Hagel Resignation

    WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) today made this statement on the resignation of Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel.

    “I appreciate Secretary Hagel’s life-long service to our country. He’s a distinguished combat veteran who bravely served in Vietnam and someone who has always tried to do what he thought was best for our men and women in uniform.

    “I particularly appreciate his recent efforts to speak truth to power when it comes to our failing strategy in Syria and Iraq. Secretary Hagel’s recent memo about how our strategy is failing and must be adjusted was welcome news to those of us who have harbored these thoughts for some time. It’s clear to me Secretary Hagel realizes our failures in Syria have also greatly contributed to destabilization in Iraq and a more robust response is required.

    “Whether it was leaving a residual force behind in Iraq or assisting the Free Syrian Army at a time when it would have been most beneficial, our failing strategies in Iraq and Syria are President Obama’s fault. On numerous occasions he has chosen to ignore sound military advice.

    “I hope President Obama will now do the same soul-searching regarding our failing strategies in Syria and Iraq. He too must be willing to make the necessary changes.

    “While I have had very public differences with Secretary Hagel on policy, I have always respected him as a person. I wish Secretary Hagel well and appreciate all he has done for our country.”


    On Possible Replacements as Secretary of Defense:

    “Three potential replacements who have been mentioned – Senator Jack Reed, Michele Flournoy, and Ashton Carter – are solid choices for this important position.”

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      I find Joe Wilson’s statement somewhat harder to follow:

      Wilson Statement on Secretary Hagel’s Resignation

      (Washington, DC) – Chairman Joe Wilson (SC-02) of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel issued the following statement regarding the announcement that Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel is stepping down.

      “The Obama Administration’s failure to promote a strong national defense becomes more evident everyday. With Secretary Hagel’s departure from the Department of Defense, it is clear that even those who are perceived as compliant with this Administration fall short of the President’s expectations. I commend Secretary Hagel’s service to our country and hope that his replacement will work with the House and Senate to restore our military’s strength and capability to protect our national security.”

      1. Juan Caruso

        Rep. Joe Wilson’s statement, as you say, may be difficult for many people to understand.

        Those, who like me, participated in nuclear deterrence roles before rogue states like North Korea and iran had related or incipient capacities like to sleep well at night these days. We do not subscribe to the utopian fallacy of life as in Roddenberry’s Star Trek.

        This factual abstract nails the crux of elected-lawyer Wilson’s opinion for those like myself, and should help others to better understand reality:


        President Barack Obama’s declared goal of eliminating the U.S. nuclear arsenal appears to be driving U.S. nuclear policy. The Nuclear Posture Review Implementation Study, which recommends reducing the number of U.S. strategic nuclear weapons by up to one-third, appears to have resulted from choosing the amount of reduction first and then justifying the number after the fact, rather than assessing U.S. deterrence needs first and then choosing the number of weapons that would meet that need. The Administration’s backward approach to policymaking threatens to undermine the security of the United States and its allies.”

        details here:

      2. Mark Stewart

        Isn’t the sequestration that the House of Representatives, including Wilson, pushed for what is driving down the defense appropriations (since nobody was willing to touch entitlements)?

        How does Wilson’s press writer – let alone Joe – square that reality with his “hope” that the next SecDef will work with the House and Senate to restore defense spending?

        How does anyone live in such a place where such dichotomies co-exist? No wonder they all seem nuts in Washington, DC…

        1. Juan Caruso

          “Isn’t the sequestration that the House of Representatives, including Wilson, pushed for what is driving down the defense appropriations (since nobody was willing to touch entitlements)?” – Mark S.

          Mark, the main driver for arms reduction has been and continues to be the fall of the Soviet Union and end of the Cold War decades ago. Afterwards (at 4 year intervals) nuclear policy and arms reductions had been driven by quadrennial reviews of nuclear forces undertaken by the Department of Defense.

          The first took place in 1994. Sequestration , despite the hopes of many has yet materially impact our strategic readiness. In bipartisan fashion congressional supporters of a strong U.S. defense consider strategic nuclear forces immune from drastic cuts. Currently, our subs have not carry tactical nuclear weapons since the Cold War’s end.

          Putin insisted recently Russia’s unwillingness to abide a restiction on submarine tactical nuclear weapons.

          The 2002 Nuclear Posture review requiried the “Pentagon to draft contingency plans for nuclear weapons use against at least seven countries, naming not only Russia and Iran, but North Korea, China, Libya and Syria.

          President Barack Obama’s 2010 Nuclear Posture Review was preceded by his high profile 2009 speech in Prague, in which he outlined his vision for a world without nuclear weapons. He has seemed willing to begin unilateral nuclear disarmament with Russian cooperation.

          Russia has since acquired and tested new ballistic missile subs for its new ballistic missiles. Like China and North Korea, Russia has been modernizing and growing its submarine fleet.

          Readers may find it of interest that Russia’s nuclear stockpile exceeds our by about 10%:

        2. Brad Warthen Post author

          Mark, near as I can recall, Wilson and Graham have been raising the alarm against sequestration applying to the military since the start.

          See this header image, which occasionally appears at the top of this blog? It was taken WAY back, a couple of years ago, over at the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce. It shows Graham, Wilson and a bunch of others, including Steve Benjamin and Bobby Harrell, standing together to express their concerns about military sequestration.

          For what that’s worth…

          1. Mark Stewart

            Yup, I was thinking the Republican led House had passed it in 2011; I forgot that all of the SC Republican delegates had voted against it. My bad.

            Still, main point still stands, how is a new SecDef supposed to be any more effective at working with the House and Senate?

            All the same, Wilson was a vocal opponent of raising the debt ceiling – so in effect he still stood on the side of sequestration. If that perspective makes dense…

  2. Mike Cakora

    That Hagel was the least common denominator when he was appointed makes replacing him difficult, as a lot of pundits started writing yesterday.

    Who has a plan for addressing current budget realities, growing foreign threats, the administration’s confused / confusing foreign policy, and the shrinking military capability? Especially when the real chain of command for the SecDef is not to the president, but to his National Security Advisor?

    1. Mike Cakora

      “Dude, this was like two years ago,” as former NSC spokesman Tommy Vietor said last May in reference to Benghazi.

      Courtesy of Wikipedia:
      Rice served in the Clinton administration at the NSC)from 1993 to 1997. At the time of the 1994 Rwandan Genocide, Rice reportedly said, “If we use the word ‘genocide’ and are seen as doing nothing, what will be the effect on the November election?” Rice subsequently acknowledged the mistakes made at the time and felt that a debt needed repaying. The inability or failure of the Clinton administration to do anything about the genocide would form her later views on possible military interventions. She would later say of the experience: “I swore to myself that if I ever faced such a crisis again, I would come down on the side of dramatic action, going down in flames if that was required.

      And then came Benghazi. No flames, just talking points.

      Obama’s NSC is the weakest set of amateurs we’ve ever seen. In addition to Tommy the deliveryman, Rice’s NSC features Ben Rhodes whose MFA in Creative Writing uniquely equips him for his foreign policy role…

      1. M Prince

        Let’s try comparing the proverbial apples to apples, or oranges to oranges, ok? With the comment you highlighted Rice was clearly referring to another situation like Rwanda, involving genocide and such. So the place where Rice’s Rwandan experience applied was the impending attack by Gaddafi forces against the resistance in Benghazi, and our response there was prompted mainly by Rice and Samantha Powers. Not saying you’re right or wrong about Rice in general, only that your talking point here is goes wide of the mark. You feel me?

  3. Mike Cakora

    Politico reports that Hagel’s resistance to directives to whittle down the prisoner population at Guantanamo Bay played a role in his firing / resignation / humiliation:

    “This was not an insignificant source of friction,” said the official, who asked not to be named. “I can say definitively on this one it has been utterly public and unmistakable in terms of the disconnect.”

    White House irritation with Hagel grew so intense that last May, National Security Adviser Susan Rice sent Hagel an extraordinary memo directing him to report every two weeks on progress towards transferring or releasing Guantanamo prisoners, the source said, discussing a directive first reported earlier this year by The New York Times. It’s unclear when or if those reports were submitted.

    “He was the bottleneck,” said one advocate closely tracking the process. “He wasn’t signing off.”

    There was little movement from Hagel until a meeting of national security principals last month, which pushed the defense secretary to reluctantly approve a few transfers, the official said.

    So Hagel refused to sign certifications that the future threat posed by the prisoners could be adequately mitigated. Maybe it was because he did not believe that the threats were adequately mitigated.

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