Shadow Government

A front-row seat to the Republicans' debate over foreign policy, including their critique of the Biden administration.

What Hagel’s Resignation Says About Obama’s Flawed Leadership

As a supporter of President George W. Bush’s decisions to invade Afghanistan and Iraq and the surge, I did not welcome Chuck Hagel as President Obama’s choice for secretary of defense. But the president has a right to choose whom he wants, and it was obvious that Hagel had been chosen because he and Obama ...

MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images
MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images
MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images

As a supporter of President George W. Bush's decisions to invade Afghanistan and Iraq and the surge, I did not welcome Chuck Hagel as President Obama's choice for secretary of defense. But the president has a right to choose whom he wants, and it was obvious that Hagel had been chosen because he and Obama shared views and had built up a cordial relationship from their days in the Senate. The primary criteria by which Hagel was chosen was that he would support both the downsizing of the military and the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq and Afghanistan.

But then something caused a rift between Obama and Hagel: their differing reactions to the Islamic State, Putin, and an obviously undefeated al Qaeda. These strategic threats have been creating facts on the ground that Hagel and the uniformed military leaders couldn't dismiss even if the White House is determined to.

When the shared goal was to live out the 2012 campaign rhetoric of defeated enemies and the presumed success of the Obama approach, all was well between president and the secretary of defense. But once the world blew up under Obama's watch and reality overtook ideal, each man had a choice to make.

As a supporter of President George W. Bush’s decisions to invade Afghanistan and Iraq and the surge, I did not welcome Chuck Hagel as President Obama’s choice for secretary of defense. But the president has a right to choose whom he wants, and it was obvious that Hagel had been chosen because he and Obama shared views and had built up a cordial relationship from their days in the Senate. The primary criteria by which Hagel was chosen was that he would support both the downsizing of the military and the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq and Afghanistan.

But then something caused a rift between Obama and Hagel: their differing reactions to the Islamic State, Putin, and an obviously undefeated al Qaeda. These strategic threats have been creating facts on the ground that Hagel and the uniformed military leaders couldn’t dismiss even if the White House is determined to.

When the shared goal was to live out the 2012 campaign rhetoric of defeated enemies and the presumed success of the Obama approach, all was well between president and the secretary of defense. But once the world blew up under Obama’s watch and reality overtook ideal, each man had a choice to make.

Hagel, who works in a building devoid of campaign aides, appreciated these realities and what they meant for our national security. Obama, who is rarely ever separated from political people and their constant curating of him as a political figure, did not appreciate these realities. Rather, these events are irritating intrusions on his more important work of saving his domestic agenda and the one all-important foreign policy agenda item, a deal with Iran.

Other commenters have debated the pros and cons of Hagel’s tenure (Andrew Peek here, our own Shadow contributors as well), but the most important thing to be noted is that this forced resignation is emblematic of the Obama presidency’s flaws: cliquishness, groupthink, and permanent campaign mode. No matter what one thinks of Hagel’s qualifications, performance or intellect, the simple fact is that he is an official who insisted on telling the White House what it did not want to hear. That is something he chose to do, I applaud him for it, and he should not be fired for it. What he could not help is that he was not respected by the White House and did not come in with sufficient gravitas to make himself a force to be reckoned with as did Clinton and Kerry. Bringing him on in the first place was Obama’s choice and he bears the blame for that.

Obama will now choose a secretary of defense for the remainder of his presidency. Given how the incumbent was chosen and then forced out, it is clear there will be no change in the area most needed to bring order to our foreign policy: the president’s wishful thinking about it.

Paul J. Bonicelli is professor of government at Regent University, and served as the assistantadministrator for Latin America and the Caribbean of the United States Agency for International Development.

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