Photo above: Chuck Hagel on the day President Barack Obama announced he was the nominee to be Secretary of Defense. Former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta is at the podium. (Wikipedia)
The sacking — let us mince no words, for that is what it really is — of Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense is a bellweather moment for embattled President Barack Obama.
Along with his reckless decision to go ahead with sweeping immigration reform at the worst possible time, it marks the beginning of what promises to be a catastrophic final two years for what until now had been a remarkably successful, robust and underestimated presidency.
Hagel’s sacking opens the way to an open-ended, reckless and ill-defined rekindling of America’s open-ended war in the Middle East.
Hagel was fired after only two years running the largest, most expensive and infinitely most powerful department of the United States government for three reasons:
First, he was too old, too cautious and too unfashionable to penetrate the president’s exceptionally tiny inner circle.
Second, he was fired as the scapegoat for now widely criticized policies ranging from Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq to Ukraine that he had no hand in shaping but loyally tried to implement.
In short, he was fired as a scapegoat for the failings of Susan Rice, the most incompetent and unsuccessful national security advisor of modern times.
But Rice, a study in ignorance and incompetence — not to mention extreme arrogance in everything she touches — remains untouchable. She is a personal favorite of the president and first lady.
Third, and most important of all, Hagel was fired because he opposed an immediate and open-ended reintroduction of U.S. military force into the Middle East to combat the very real threat of ISIS/ISL, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or in the Levant.
Lexington, the shrewd Washington correspondent of the London Economist, clearly understood that Hagel was a victim of changing times.
In a column published on Nov. 24 he noted correctly that Hagel’s “stated mission was to help wind down the Afghan war and shrink America’s war machine to fit a new, post-Bush era in which military force would be a tool of last, rather than first resort.”
Hagel genuinely believed, along with Obama himself, that there were and should be limits to the use of U.S. military power, he was, as Lexington wrote “adamant that force should only be used for a clear objective and with a viable exit strategy.”
For these reasons, Hagel, again according to Lexington, “insisted that the fight to tackle IS would have to follow the strict, narrow guidelines set out by his president. America would support Iraqi forces and Kurdish Peshmerga fighters.
But he insisted ‘this is not a US responsibility.’”
However, the times have changed, Obama has changed, and because Hagel honorably would not change, he is out.
“Already, fresh troops are being sent as advisers to Iraq. American airstrikes are targeting IS fighters in Iraq and Syria. It emerged in recent days that American forces in Afghanistan are to be given a larger role supporting Afghan forces against the Taliban, even after the declared end of American combat operations next month,” Lexington wrote.
Chuck Hagel kept his principles and kept his integrity and this was why he was fired.
Cooming soon: Hagel’s Ignored Achievements
Martin Sieff is a former senior foreign correspondent for The Washington Times and former Managing Editor, International Affairs for United Press International. Mr. Sieff is the author of “That Should Still Be Us: How Thomas Friedman’s Flat World Myths Are Keeping Us Flat on Our Backs” (Wiley 2012) and “The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Middle East” (Regnery, 2008). He has received three Pulitzer Prize nominations for international reporting.