President Obama’s former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has blasted the White House in a far-ranging interview with Foreign Policy. Hagel criticized both the substance and the process of the Administration’s foreign policy decisions in passages such as this one:
While Hagel preferred smaller meetings and one-on-one phone calls, the White House often summoned him to large Situation Room sessions with last-minute agendas sent out overnight or on the morning of the meeting.
The White House’s policy deliberations on Syria and other issues run by Rice and her deputies seemed to lead nowhere, according to Hagel.
“For one thing, there were way too many meetings. The meetings were not productive,” Hagel said. “I don’t think many times we ever actually got to where we needed to be. We kept kind of deferring the tough decisions. And there were always too many people in the room.”
At larger White House meetings, with some staffers in the room he did not even know, Hagel was reluctant to speak at length, fearing his stance would find its way into media reports. “The more people you have in a room, the more possibilities there are for self-serving leaks to shape and influence decisions in the press,” he said.
Specifically, Hagel criticized the “red line” incident in Syria (“There’s no question in my mind that it hurt the credibility of the president’s word when this occurred”), the Administration’s handling of Russia (“I think we should have done more, could have done more,” with regard to Ukraine), and micromanagement. And as Micah Zenko notes on the CFR’s blog, sometimes what Hagel didn’t say was as damning as what he did. One of his comments makes it clear, for instance, that the Obama Administration had never reached a clear decision on whether we would defend friendly rebels in Syria before Hagel gave vital Congressional testimony on the subject.
Furthermore, as Foreign Policy notes, these are not isolated criticisms:
Hagel’s predecessors, Gates and Panetta, as well as Michèle Flournoy, the former No. 3 official at the Pentagon, have all criticized the White House’s centralized decision-making and interference with the workings of the Defense Department.
And other high-level officials, including Ambassadors Robert Ford and Martin Indyk, have also spoken at length about the Administration’s foreign policy follies. The sense that emerges from all the criticism by President Obama’s closest, most senior ex-officials is: The President is a terrible foreign policy president who has made serious and serial mistakes. Has any American president in the history of the Republic taken this much flak from ex-officials at the highest level?