Hagel scape­goat for Obama’s dys­func­tional se­cu­rity pol­icy

Pakistan Observer - - INTERNATIONAL - SUN XIAOBO

U S DE­FENSE Sec­re­tary Chuck Hagel sub­mit­ted his res ig­na­tion on Mon­day un­der pres­sure and will step down from the po­si­tion as soon as a suc­ces­sor is picked, as the US is strug­gling to deal with a messy Mid­dle East amid wide­spread sus­pi­cions about its wan­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

It is no sur­prise that Pres­i­dent Barack Obama seeks a changeover in the lead­er­ship that over­sees the na­tional de­fense pol­icy after the Democrats were swept by the Repub­li­cans in re­cent midterm elec­tions.

What’s un­ex­pected is that such a shake-up comes so soon. The 68-year-old de­fense sec­re­tary has not done well enough in the po­si­tion that he took since Fe­bru­ary 2013, but the US fail­ure in Europe and the Mid­dle East is due pri­mar­ily to the pres­i­dent and his team, for which Hagel is nev­er­the­less blamed.

Be­ing de­fense sec­re­tary is no easy job given its weight and so­phis­ti­cated po­lit­i­cal skills as well as per­sonal ca­pa­bil­ity re­quired. As a mod­er­ate Repub­li­can, Hagel has been com­mit­ted to car­ry­ing out the na­tional se­cu­rity pol­icy un­der the tight grip of Obama, but the on­go­ing chaos in the Mid­dle East, par­tic­u­larly in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, sug­gests the pol­icy hasn’t worked well.

And it’s no­table that the Pen­tagon chief clashes with Obama’s small group of aides and has never pen­e­trated into it. Last month, Hagel sent a memo to Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­viser Susan Rice, say­ing that Obama has to state more clearly in what way he wants to deal with Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar al-As­sad.

Obama is of­ten crit­i­cized for heav­ily re­ly­ing on a tight cir­cle that in­cludes Rice to make his for­eign and na­tional se­cu­rity pol­icy, but a small team doesn’t help with rea­son­able and ef­fi­cient decision-mak­ing. Mem­bers of the cir­cle lack strate­gic think­ing, wide vi­sion and also ex­pe­ri­ence, mak­ing Obama’s for­eign and na­tional se­cu­rity pol­icy ob­vi­ously short­sighted, not well-planned and full of po­lit­i­cal cal­cu­la­tions.

This forms a cru­cial de­fect for Obama, as no one in his ad­min­is­tra­tion can be called a prom­i­nent strate­gist like Henry Kissinger, who pos­sesses strate­gic think­ing and abun­dant knowl­edge of in­ter­na­tional pol­i­tics. Oth­er­wise the Ukraine cri­sis wouldn’t have turned out the way it has, with the US, the EU and Ukraine all be­ing losers in the game. With re­gard to this cir­cle, even Sec­re­tary of State John Kerry hasn’t made him­self a com­plete in­sider. And in the af­ter­math of the midterm elec­tions, Hagel’s Repub­li­can iden­tity may also play a part in his forced res­ig­na­tion, though the scale is un­known.

How­ever, gen­er­ally speak­ing, this is a good time to change the de­fense sec­re­tary. Obama is set to change the de­fense lead­er­ship for the sake of two years left in his rocky ten­ure, as Obama called it an “ap­pro­pri­ate time for him to com­plete his ser­vice.” Any post­pone­ment won’t leave enough time for the suc­ces­sor to adapt to and per­form the due re­spon­si­bil­i­ties.

Hagel’s res­ig­na­tion may sig­nal that more de­par­tures are to come, which will be pos­si­bly from the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil of the White House and the State Depart­ment at dif­fer­ent lev­els.Hagel’s suc­ces­sor should be ca­pa­ble of deal­ing with na­tional se­cu­rity is­sues, to be fa­mil­iar with rel­e­vant gov­ern­ment agen­cies, and to ob­tain the con­fi­dence of Obama and con­fir­ma­tion of Se­nate.

—Cour­tesy: Global Times [The ar­ti­cle was com­piled by Global Times re­porter Sun Xiaobo based on an in­ter­view with Xin Qiang, deputy di­rec­tor of the Cen­ter for Amer­i­can Stud­ies at Fu­dan Univer­sity. sunx­i­aobo@glob­al­times.com.cn]

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