By Richard Walker —
Whether he was fired or only encouraged to resign from his position as secretary of defense, Charles Timothy “Chuck” Hagel’s departure was seen by many in Washington as inevitable. It underscored the disturbing reality of chaos, which has plagued the White House’s foreign policy of late.
Hagel, a Vietnam combat veteran, believed the Iraq War was a mistake. As a result, he was never comfortable as a spokesperson for a president who has become increasingly hawkish and has micromanaged policy with a small cadre of “yes men.”
Days before Hagel appeared alongside Obama in the Rose Garden to announce his resignation, he learned the president had decided to ramp up American military operations in Afghanistan in 2015 even though the White House had previously announced an end to all military operations in that country.
There has been speculation Obama made the Afghan move after facing considerable criticism for withdrawing all forces from Iraq.
The move would not have pleased Hagel. He was already smarting from internal battles with White House staff over the lack of a coherent Syria policy or a plan to deal more forcefully with Islamic radicals. Hagel wanted to move the focus off the failing war in Afghanistan to target religious extremists in Iraq and Syria.
Ironically, the person who had Hagel’s back in the days before his resignation was Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.). McCain and Hagel had once been close buddies in the Senate. But some time later, after Hagel had become a fierce critic of the Iraq War, McCain hounded and humiliated Hagel at his Senate confirmation hearing for the Pentagon job.
In a revealing interview with The Hill, McCain perhaps let the cat out of the bag regarding the reasons for Hagel’s break with Obama when he explained how he and Hagel shared similar foreign policy views:
“Chuck and I have worked well together, and we have often seen eye to eye on our biggest national security challenges—ISIS, the conflict in Syria, the war in Afghanistan, a rising China and most of all sequestration,” said McCain.
In other words, by opposing the Iraq War, Hagel had drifted into the McCain camp, where it is believed that the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) poses a far greater threat than Obama has been willing to concede and that the Assad government in Syria should be removed.
In truth, the arguments between Obama and Hagel were all about what kinds of wars the United States should be fighting, not whether the U.S. should even be involved in the Middle East—at least that is how McCain conveyed it. Keep in mind that McCain was the person who heard his friend Hagel’s complaints before Hagel parted ways with Obama.
Lately, Hagel and Obama seemed to be at odds publicly. In a January, 2014 interview in The New Yorker, Obama compared ISIS and its al Qaeda affiliates to junior varsity basketball teams wearing Lakers uniforms. In contrast, Hagel said ISIS was “an imminent threat to every interest we have.”
Even Hagel’s departure was somewhat bizarre. It resembled a tearful separation, with Obama publicly praising Hagel while Hagel stood nearby looking confused about what exactly was happening.
It should be noted here that both sides are wrong in their Mideast strategy. The only sound foreign policy for America is one of strict neutrality and a complete withdrawal of all U.S. troops from the Mideast. Currently America is involved in seven undeclared Mideast wars in various degrees. The nations in which the U.S. either has a large troop presence or is carrying out overt or covert bombings include Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, Syria and Pakistan.
Richard Walker is the pen name of a former N.Y. news producer.
Help Wanted: U.S. Defense Secretary
By former Representative Ron Paul
It seems nobody wants to be secretary of defense in the Obama administration. The president’s first two defense secretaries, Robert Gates and Leon Panetta, both complained bitterly this month about their time in the administration. The president’s National Security Council staff micro-managed the Pentagon, they said at a forum last week.
Gates revealed that while he was running the Defense Department, the White House established a line of communication to the Joint Special Operations Command to discuss matters of strategy and tactics, cutting the defense secretary out of the loop. His successor at the Pentagon, Panetta, made similar complaints.
Recently, President Barack Obama’s third secretary of defense, Chuck Hagel, was forced out of office after complaining in October that the administration had no coherent policy toward Syria.
He did have a point: While claiming recent U.S. bombing in Syria is designed to degrade and destroy ISIS, many in the administration continue pushing for “regime change” against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is also fighting ISIS. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey has spoken out in favor of further U.S. escalation in Syria and Iraq despite Obama’s promise of “no combat troops” back to the region.
Shortly after Hagel’s ouster, the media reported that the president favored Michèle A. Flournoy to replace him. She would have been the first female defense secretary, but more tellingly she would come to the position from a think tank almost entirely funded by the military-industrial complex. The Center for a New American Security, which she founded in 2007, is the flagship of the neocon wing of the Democratic Party.
The center has argued against U.S. troops ever leaving Iraq and has endorsed the Bush administration’s doctrine of preventive warfare. The center is perhaps best known for pushing the failed counterinsurgency (COIN) doctrine in Iraq and Afghanistan. The COIN doctrine was said at the time to have been the key to the U.S. victory in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now that the U.S. is back in Iraq and will continue combat operations in Afghanistan next year, you don’t hear too much about COIN and victories.
Ms. Flournoy turned down Obama before she was even asked, however. She is said to be waiting for a Hillary Clinton presidency, where her militarism may be even more appreciated. With the next Senate to be led by neocons like John McCain, a Hillary Clinton presidency would find little resistance to a more militaristic foreign policy.
So Obama cannot keep defense secretaries on the job, and his top Pentagon pick is not interested in serving the last stretch of a lame duck administration. There is bickering and fighting within the administration about who should be running the latest U.S. wars in the Middle East and elsewhere.
Here is one thing none of them is fighting about: the U.S. policy of global intervention.
All sides agree that the U.S. needs to expand its war in the Middle East, that the U.S.must continue to provoke Russia via Ukraine and that regime change operations must continue worldwide. Unfortunately, there is no real foreign policy debate in Washington.
But the real national security crisis will come when their militarism finally cripples our economy and places us at the mercy of the rest of the world.
Ron Paul, a former U.S. representative from Texas and medical doctor, continues to write his column “Texas Straight Talk” for the Foundation for Rational Economics & Education.
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