Secretary Chuck Hagel is out. President Obama, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, and General Dempsey

Secretary Chuck Hagel is out.

President Obama, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, and General Dempsey, photo by Pete Souza, public domain

[Chuck Hagel] never really shed that pall after arriving at the Pentagon, and in the past months he has largely ceded the stage to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, who officials said initially won the confidence of Mr. Obama with his recommendation of military action against the Islamic State. [New York Times]

WHETHER Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel was fired or it was a mutually agreed upon departure due to “skill sets” lacking in the changing atmosphere where ISIS and other militant groups are flexing their muscles, the lesson is very clear. Don’t ever hire a skeptical war critic to run the Pentagon, because it’s not going to work out well for anyone.

It would be like having a neophyte president in the White House who thinks executive branch decisions actually control military outcomes. If a politician doesn’t have a solid reputation with the military industrial and intelligence complexes, legacy will remain illusive on foreign policy.

The formal setting of Hagel’s departure is, however, a tip of the hat from President Obama, regardless of what Hagel haters are saying. Appreciated for the job he was initially brought in to do, the reality on the ground around the world has altered significantly since he was confirmed.

Chuck Hagel had a disastrous confirmation and never acquitted himself well when speaking on the record for the Administration. He was a fine match for President Obama when the Administration was winding down Iraq and Afghanistan. However, on the way to pulling out, something catastrophic undermined the hopes and ambitions of a White House that was clearly caught flatfooted after the Arab spring.

It’s pointless to recount all the Middle East maneuvers that went wrong, but Secretary Hagel’s response to the threat of ISIS, as Iraq became inflamed and Afghanistan drawdown began to look premature, was nothing less than foreshadowing of the ceremony happening today in the Rose Garden.

Hagel described ISIS as an “imminent threat to every interest we have,” adding, “This is beyond anything that we’ve seen.”

Considering that President Obama quietly, on a news dump Friday, expanded the U.S. combat role in Afghanistan through 2015, it’s hardly surprising that a secretary of defense brought in to bring the Pentagon war machine to heel is out.


UPDATED: Josh Marshall reached out to Steve Clemons, someone I quote often on foreign policy and with whom I’m very friendly. Clemons was on the side of Chuck Hagel, and didn’t mince words.

“Obama himself has not been able to articulate and stick to a strategically coherent plan. … His administration has become overly reactive to problems, and not strategic. Hagel is a strategic guy,” Clemons said. The change “really will make permanent the notion that Obama not only didn’t dismantle the national security state, he reified it and doubled-down in the end, that he didn’t have the courage of his convictions in a way to go a Hagel route.”