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Foreign Policy Adrift
Former SecDef Blasts Foreign Policy Failures

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?

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  • Jim__L

    I’m shocked! Next he’ll be telling us Obama didn’t deserve his Nobel Peace Prize!

  • Kevin

    “Has any American president in the history of the Republic taken this much flak from ex-officials at the highest level?”

    Lincoln from McClellan, perhaps. It must be just another example of how Obama is the second coming of Abraham Lincoln.

  • Ellen

    What good are all of these revelations now? Where all of these people could have had an impact is if they had RESIGNED on principle while they were actually in their positions, and explained to the media that Obama was destroying America’s standing in the world with his incompetency. As Hagel makes clear, the incompetency includes both the process – the way he went about deciding what to do (or not to do) – and the substance of the decisions. It sounds like most of the substance of the decisions was not to make a decision, and then blame the ensuing mess on the usual culprits.

    How pitiful. The only thing one can wonder is where is the leadership of the Democratic Party? Why are they following slavishly his disastrous policies.

    • Nevis07

      Carter is his 4th Secretary of defense, right? 4 in 7 years should be a clear indication to the country that the problem with Obama’s foreign policy and defense policy doesn’t have to do with his cabinet but this Obama and his administration.

    • Kevin


      It doesn’t say much for Hillary that she has nothing to say about this having served in the same dysfunctional cabinet for 4+ years – it just shows what a craven opportunist she is. What humiliation will she not put up with in her quixotic pursuit of the presidency? Does she have any principles other than the pursuit of tha office?

    • Blackbeard

      Why would the Democratic Party object, isn’t it all working as intended? Isn’t Hillary on her way to a almost certain presidential win? Is there any reason to think she won’t serve two terms? Aren’t the Democrats winning on climate change, immigration, gay marriage, etc. Aren’t government spending and taxes way up? As for foreign policy, the left has long believed that the major problem in the world was American belligerence and now our military is in retreat everywhere.

      Truly Obama has been the transformative president he hoped to be.

  • Pete

    So, turncoat Chuckie Hegel has finally realized that he played the role of a useful idiot for B. Hussein Obama? My, my, my.

    As for all those highly attended meetings he attended, the dope still doesn’t realize that they were for show.

  • Andrew Allison

    Hagel doesn’t understand that he was dealing with the smartest (in his own mind) guy on Earth.

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