In announcing Secretary Hagel's departure Monday, President Obama said only good things about him, but people who work for the president had already made sure that the secretary looks like a bumbling, stumbling fool.
Somebody, or I guess I should say somebodies
, in the White House, the Pentagon, and the media went to a lot of trouble to portray now-lame-duck Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel as a bumbling nitwit, so out of his depth, if not stumblingly incompetent, that even President Obama, who doesn't hardly fire anybody, had to give him the ax.
I got to watch a little of the president's formal announcement of Secretary Hagel's departure, and while the president said nothing but nice and appreciative things about the secretary's service, the message was already out. And the poor guy was forced to stand there at his executioner's side in front of the cameras for what felt like hours -- and if it felt like that to me, merely watching, I can only imagine how it felt to him.
That somebody, or somebodies, should be ashamed. It's only now, after the public humiliation, that we're getting actual reportage, which tells us that in fact Secretary Hagel did the job he was hired to do, in spite of considerable and relentless interference from persons-still-unknown in or connected to the White House, but that the nature of the job changed dramatically even as the already-impossible complexity of the problems grew even more complex and more impossible.
HAGEL HAD TO GO BECAUSE, IN SHORT --
(a) He did and was doing the job he was hired to do, and the some in terms of protecting the people in his charge from attacks from without (from Congress and elsewhere), but that that job is now obsolete, and --
(b) Nobody has a clue what the new job is, and this is being fought pretty aggressively by those unseen forces who have been making the secretary's job (and life) impossible these last two years. The best guess is that some of the new marching orders are the direct opposite of what he has always been told. Really what the administration seems to be looking for is a wizard with a magic wand. (One who can win confirmation from a Republican-controlled Senate, of course.)
(c) A guy who came into the job convinced, in apparent agreement with the man who hired him, that what the DoD needed was a guy in charge who does not
have a personal vision and agenda he's determined to ram down everybody's throat -- that guy is now being berated and ridiculed for not
being, say, Donald Rumsfeld.
(d) Throughout his brief tenure at DoD the secretary has been under siege from (unnamed) administration micromanagers who have been making it anywhere from difficult to impossible for him to do his job, whatever the hell that job is. This is, interestingly, interference that enraged his predecessor, Robert Gates, as we'll see in a moment. I wonder whether his administration critics who are deriding him for his weakness mean that he should have screaming bloody murder at them?
At this point, let's look at just a few excerpts from a report yesterday by the Washington Post
's Gref Jaffe and Rajiv Chandrasekaran, "White House seeks a stronger hand at Pentagon to manage crises
On Hagel's job description
President Obama tapped Chuck Hagel as defense secretary because he wanted someone who would quietly implement the administration’s policy, avoid controversy and promote no big, sweeping ideas.
"He didn't want to be a larger-than-life secretary"
Hagel was forced to resign Monday for being exactly that defense secretary.
Hagel didn’t make big mistakes. Nor had he lost the confidence of the uniformed military. But he often seemed lost or overly deferential to his generals in top-level White House strategy meetings, especially those focused on the battle against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, senior administration officials said.
“I could never tell what his opinion was on anything,” said a senior administration official involved in national security policy. “He’d never speak. . . . The key comment, the insightful approach — that never came out of him.”
Instead, Hagel worked behind the scenes to lessen the impact of budget cuts on the military’s ability to fight future wars and on the families of those in uniform. . . .
In recent months, though, as the White House groped toward a policy to confront the Islamic State, Obama decided that he needed a defense secretary who was more at ease in the White House Situation Room than with grunts in the field.
On White House micromanagement
“Hagel tried to play a behind-the-scenes role on tough issues — the [budget cuts], sexual assault, ending two wars,” said Vikram Singh, a former top Pentagon official and a vice president at the Center for American Progress. “He didn’t want to be a larger-than-life secretary.”
His departure isn’t likely to lead to big changes in Iraq and Syria, where the president recently doubled the number of U.S. military advisers, or in Afghanistan, where Obama seems committed to ending the war. Nor is it likely to lead to warmer relations with Congress, as happened when Donald H. Rumsfeld was fired as defense secretary by President George W. Bush in 2006 and replaced by Robert M. Gates, who was widely hailed as his polar opposite.
“No one is going to be hailed to be the anti-Hagel,” said Douglas Ollivant, a retired Army officer and a senior fellow at the New America Foundation. “No one hates Hagel.”
“There is teeth-gnashing over micromanagement,” a senior defense official said. “Relations have not been great.”
NOW, OF COURSE, WE'RE MUCH BETTER OFF, RIGHT?
Under Obama, the National Security Council has delved into the nitty-gritty of shaping war policy in the Middle East and Afghanistan, sometimes subjecting senior officials to hours of meetings to reach incremental decisions.
Earlier this year, the decision on how many U.S. troops would remain in Afghanistan in 2015 was the subject of 14 meetings of NSC deputies, four gatherings involving Cabinet secretaries and other NSC “principals,” and two NSC sessions with the president, according to a former senior administration official.
The consequence of those meetings was to pare back the military’s request by just 700 troops — from 10,500 to 9,800. . . .
White House officials regularly call commanders in Afghanistan to gauge their thinking on the progress of the war and their future troop needs. Those calls were a particular source of irritation to Gates, who said he tried to squelch them during the first two years of Obama’s presidency. In a speech this month at the Ronald Reagan presidential library, he recalled being shocked to discover that a direct telephone line to the White House had been installed in the Afghanistan headquarters of the elite Joint Special Operations Command.
“I had them tear it out while I was standing there,” Gates said. “And I told the commanders, ‘You get a call from the White House, you tell them to go to hell and call me.’ ”
Yeah, right. The headline on that Post
piece, "White House seeks a stronger hand at Pentagon to manage crises," seems pretty ironic, since it seems pretty clear that to at least certain influential people in the administration, the last thing that's wanted is "a stronger hand at the Pentagon," except perhaps "a stronger hand" that will do exactly what they want exactly the way they want it. (As for handling uppity generals, the Obama White House sure has a great track record here, doesn't it?)
Any potential SecDef nominee is going to know a whole lot more than you and I do about the recent history of the job, not to mention the ordeal to be faced in getting confirmation from a Senate controlled by crackpot Republicans, who know and understand less about our foreign-policy challenges than practically anybody on the planet.
The grim reality, at least as far as I can tell from people who really do seem to know something about the history and present of such intractable problem spots as Syria and Iraq and Afghanistan is that there are no good answers for the messes that have developed, and the answers we've tried so far have mostly made things worse, as people who know about those areas could have predicted, and often did.
And the White House is under siege from a horde of self-styled national-security experts whose answers are even worse than the Obama team's.
To all the savagely cretinous Village National Insecurity "experts" perpetually lambasting the president for his incompetence and unconscionable failures, what he should really say is: "You fuckheads don't have a fucking clue what you're talking about. The one service you might possibly be able to render to your country, if in fact you give a damn about anything except your self-importance and your scummy careers, is to blow your diseased brains out."
Then again, it isn't at all clear that the president has anybody working for him who's any better clued in. And the cackling chorus of National Insecurity "experts," so distressingly inexpert in all matters save bullying and careerist self-aggrandizement, having tasted blood, and despite having only worse ideas than the administration's, must feel themselves still further empowered. Great. Just great
"THIS WON'T HELP THEM FIX THEIR TERRIBLE PROBLEMS"
I haven't even mentioned Elizabeth Drew's take as of noon yesterday in a new post on the New York Review of Books
blog, "The Firing of Chuck Hagel
," which takes an extremely interesting look at Chuck Hagel, his past and present relationship with President Obama, the difficult leap from Congress to any cabinet job (and especially the humongous managerial responsibilities of the DoD), and especially the politics of the present administration mess. It's an invaluable read for anyone who's been wondering what the hell lay behind Hagel's firing. I'm going to quote just the final paragraph.
We’ve seen past administrations in big trouble throw overboard an inconvenient major figure. Whether it was the right one has always been a question. So was the matter of how much difference the move actually made in improving the fortunes of the said administration. Most of the time a White House staff hasn’t been as eager as this one to make it clear, right away, that the officer didn’t resign but was pushed out. This is not a good sign. All the talk coming out of the White House that Hagel’s confirmation performance is still a problem and other complaints are mainly padding on a ruthless if necessary decision—necessary in the eyes of the president and his very closest aides. But this won’t help them fix their terrible problems in Iraq and Syria and—as is increasingly clear—Afghanistan. The senior adviser said to me Monday evening: “If Hagel had agreed with the White House he wouldn’t have been fired.”
Here's how it looks to me. God, do all of these people suck. And out of the whole bunch, in and out of government, the one who sucks least is probably Chuck Hagel.
Labels: Afghanistan, Barack Obama, Chuck Hagel, Defense Dept., Iraq, National Security, Syria