Former Nebraska Republican Senator Chuck Hagel had a tortuous path in becoming Secretary of Defense to succeed the consummate Democratic Party insider Leon Panetta in February 2013. Hagel, who had once referred to the political influence of the «Jewish Lobby» in Washington, faced an uphill confirmation battle in the U.S. Senate to win confirmation over the objections of erstwhile friends and political allies like Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham.
The Obama White House maintains that negotiations with Hagel began in October between the president and the defense secretary over defense secretary’s departure. However, if that was true, the White House would have surely settled on a replacement for such a senior key Cabinet member upon the announcement of Hagel’s resignation. The fact remains that all three of Obama’s defense secretaries, Robert Gates, a holdover from the George W. Bush administration; Panetta; and Hagel have had stormy relationships with Obama’s «brain trust». With Gates, it was then-chief of staff Rahm Emanuel. With Panetta and Hagel, the «bête noires» have been former UN ambassador and current National Security Adviser Susan Rice; her deputy, Ben Rhodes; and current U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power.
Hagel asked for White House clarification on U.S. policy in Syria. McCain, one of the more vile liars in Washington, insists that Hagel wanted to attack the Bashar al-Assad government as part of an American offensive strategy against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). McCain is a strong backer of the Syrian rebel alliance that gave birth to ISIL. Hagel was more in line with Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman General Martin Dempsey, who has argued that to defeat ISIL, the United States must reach at least a minimum accommodation with Damascus, as well as with Iran. At the time of Hagel’s resignation, there were credible reports that U.S. diplomats were preparing to return to Damascus to re-open the U.S. embassy. Such a development would serve as a slap in the faces of McCain and the neo-conservatives who have been pushing for increased U.S. assistance to the Free Syrian Army, which is nothing more than a contrived pass-through to ISIL and its Turkish and Saudi enablers.
Hagel wanted a clear administration determination on what its priorities were in the Middle East. After making it clear at Cabinet meetings that ISIL was the primary threat to the entire Middle East region, Hagel was frustrated at the push-back from policy makers like Rice and her compatriot Power. To defeat ISIL quickly, there had to be an end to U.S. military advice and weaponry, in addition to finances, getting into ISIL hands through interlocutors like McCain’s friends in the Free Syrian Army and the government of Turkey. That is where Hagel ran into opposition from the Obama administration’s «Responsibility to Protect» (R2P) crowd of Rice, Power, Rhodes, and the rest of those who Hagel once referred to as Washington’s «Jewish Lobby». These extreme interventionists are in bed with Israel’s government in providing aid to Syria’s Al Nusra Front guerrillas who are allied with ISIL. With Hagel and Dempsey arguing for consistency in America’s policy against ISIL, which would entail coming to an accommodation with Assad and Damascus, a clash with the pro-Israeli neocons was bound to occur. When push came to shove, Hagel was shoved out the door.
Panetta, Hagel’s predecessor, was counted among those who wanted the Obama administration to launch a war against Assad. His thinking, as stated in his memoir, «Worthy Fights: A Memoir of Leadership in War and Peace,» was that if Obama had launched military strikes against Assad early on, there would have been no rise of ISIL. While Panetta’s reasoning is terribly flawed, considering that ISIL was always on the drawing boards of the Turks, Qataris, and Saudis, as well as the Israelis whose goal it is to destabilize every Arab nation-state, his frustration with the team of amateurs who run the White House’s national security team is a salient one.
Echoing Panetta, Gates, in his memoir «Duty», is scathing in his description of the decision-making process in the Obama White House. Of course, Gates was forced to deal with Emanuel, the veteran of the Israel Defense Force who chose to serve in a foreign army when tens of thousands of American servicemen were deployed to the Middle East to fight against Saddam Hussein after his army’s invasion and occupation of Kuwait. Whether it is Emanuel, Rice, or Rhodes calling the shots in the Obama White House, the Israel-centric interests of the neocons and those who Hagel called the «Jewish Lobby» are always given priority over the interests of the United States.
McCain’s rhetoric expressing sympathy for Hagel is not matched by the voting records of McCain and his neocon war hawk friends. Hagel was approved to serve as Defense Secretary in a 58 to 41 vote, with McCain being joined by such pro-Israel Republican stalwarts as Ted Cruz of Texas, Graham of South Carolina, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, incoming Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Richard Burr of North Carolina, Marco Rubio of Florida, Orrin Hatch of Utah, and Mark Kirk of Illinois in voting to reject Republican Hagel as Defense Secretary. Hagel saw the writing on the wall as he was poised to face an aggressive Republican Senate majority on issues ranging from ISIL to Syria and Iran to Ukraine. And Obama decided to avoid a showdown with the incoming neocon-controlled Senate by simply throwing Hagel under the bus.
Having never served in the military, Obama can never appreciate the concepts of loyalty to one’s subordinates and team honor. That is why Hagel became a sacrificial lamb. Based on what may be an abortive opening to the Assad government by re-opening the U.S. embassy in Damascus, Secretary of State John Kerry, who just achieved a seven-month delay in reaching an accommodation with Iran on a nuclear deal, must now face an ever more hostile Congress on Iran. If Kerry sticks to his guns on Syria and the Iran talks, Obama will surely throw his second Vietnam War veteran Cabinet member, after Hagel, under the bus.
The neocons, including McCain, are talking up former Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy, who now works as a consultant for Mitt Romney’s and Netanyahu’s old employer, the Boston Consulting Group, to replace Hagel at the Pentagon. Flournoy would bring to the office all the right ingredients for increased U.S. military pressure on Syria, Iran, Russia, and China. Her husband, Scott Gould served as Deputy Veterans Secretary during the time the department failed to provide needed medical care for so many of America’s former military members. Gould, a one-time denizen of the Brookings Institution, took his «empathy» for those veterans needing but not receiving medical care to his present job as vice president of Maryland’s Blue Cross/Blue Shield private medical insurance company.
The problem for Obama is that McCain as Senate Armed Service Committee chairman will constantly use the cable news networks to second-guess whoever becomes the next Defense Secretary. Only the most foolish or weak-kneed person would subject themselves to a White House that refuses to provide political cover to its senior Cabinet officials. Therefore, there is little wonder why no one is beating a path to the Oval Office to volunteer to succeed Hagel at the Pentagon and become potential victim number four.