War/Security

Why exactly was Chuck Hagel forced out as secdef?

Was Chuck Hagel scapegoated by a White House inner circle that he failed to penetrate?

Chuck Hagel may have been a victim, but, like his predecessors, he failed to demonstrate the requisite vision the military needs for the future. (Photo: DoD / Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo / Flickr Commons)

Chuck Hagel may have been a victim, but, like his predecessors, he failed to demonstrate the requisite vision the military needs for the future. (Photo: DoD / Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo / Flickr Commons)

Was fired Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel simply a scapegoat for charges that the Obama presidency was slow to respond to the Islamic State and ebola? Perhaps an administration that hired him to wind down the Afghanistan War and cut Pentagon costs had reversed course and instead sought a secretary of defense to put the United States on war footing with the Islamic State.

Or as indicated by his confirmation hearings, was Hagel just too poor a spokesperson for the Pentagon?

Perhaps he just couldn’t contend with micromanagement from President Obama’s inner circle of Obama, which he was unable to penetrate.

Politico magazine asked What Was Chuck Hagel’s Biggest Mistake? Among those who responded was Tom Ricks, who wrote:

His biggest mistake was taking the job. He was working for a White House stuffed with political hacks and obsessed with message.

Winslow Wheeler:

His pathetic (“profoundly depressing”) performance at his confirmation hearing in January 2013 showed he lacked the spine or intellect, or both, to defend even his own past statements in front of bullying from Senators John McCain and Ted Cruz. Hagel’s performance since then has done absolutely nothing to dispel his initial impression as an empty shell. [Yikes! ― RW]

Lawrence Korb:

However, Hagel was sworn in already down in the count. First, his position was weakened by a disgraceful confirmation process. Hagel was all but branded a traitor in a contentious Senate confirmation hearing, and he remains the only nominee for defense secretary to be filibustered.

Peter Feaver:

Perhaps Secretary Hagel’s biggest mistake was his performance at his confirmation hearings, which left him hobbled and behind the respect-curve from the outset. As myriad leaked critiques attest, he was never able to overcome that troubled start and win the confidence of two crucial constituencies: the White House and the Pentagon.

Feaver continues beyond the confirmation hearings.

Beyond that, one can point to numerous challenges that Hagel was unable to overcome and that will greet his successor: a growing gap between what our strategy asks of the military and what our resources allow the military to do, the failure to develop a coherent strategy that will successfully deal with the threats in the Middle East, the failure to thwart Russian President Vladimir Putin’s efforts to undermine NATO and so on.

As far as micromanagement, Korb:

… Hagel came in at a time when the White House, burned by dissent among the team of rivals, took more control over the national security decision-making process, including selecting who would serve on Hagel’s team at the Pentagon.

Nor, according to Gordon Adams, was Hagel much help with what he was brought in to do, the budget.

Instead of disciplining the services to plan budgets at the level of the Budget Control Act caps, the services were allowed to plan budgets above the caps, which are unlikely to be achieved. But … [this] year, the services are imagining that there will be even more resources than ever, courtesy of the fear of Islamic State beheadings, Russian aggression, spreading disease and immigrants coming over the border. … Today, the budget planning process at the Pentagon is even less disciplined than it was under Secretary Leon Panetta.

Good luck with that, next SecDef! Meanwhile, John Arquilla’s reading may have been the most telling.

He has come late to an appreciation of the pressing need to pursue game-changing paths in military and security affairs, and will now have little time and no power to champion the redesign of our armed services. Thus, the need to move from a muscle-bound military that has engaged to little positive effect in Iraq and Afghanistan—at a cost of trillions—to a leaner, nimbler, more networked force will remain unmet. This, above all else, is the greatest shortcoming of Hagel’s time as secretary, a fault he shares with his post-9/11 predecessors in the defense post. Donald Rumsfeld, Robert Gates and Leon Panetta also failed to take advantage of the bully pulpit of the Pentagon to effect needed transformational changes.

Cross-posted from the Foreign Policy in Focus Blog Focal Points.

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