The New York Times reports that President Barack Obama is about to dismiss Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel. The reason given? That the White House recognized that “the threat from the Islamic State would require a different kind of skills than those that Mr. Hagel was brought on to employ.” In other words: Hagel was brought on to downgrade the military radically, but now the military turns out to be necessary, after all.
Yet that cannot be the only reason, absent any sign that Obama is committing to a sudden, steep increase in the defense budget, and reversing the non-sequester cuts of recent years. Rather, there are two likely explanations: that Hagel has turned out to be as incompetent as his critics predicted; and that Hagel, always a loose cannon, proved too independent, promising tougher action against ISIS than Obama was prepared to authorize.
Hagel should never have been chosen for the post. He had no firm grasp of national security strategy, was weak on Iran, had a disturbing anti-Israel track record, and fumbled his confirmation hearing badly. Other nominees, including Michèle Flournoy–who would have been the first woman to hold the post–would have been better, but Obama could not pass up the chance to use a Republican as a bipartisan fig leaf to slash the Pentagon.
That said, there is no immediate or urgent failure that ought to have triggered Hagel’s departure. Until he began to “go rogue” on ISIS, he had faithfully carried out Obama’s policies. Perhaps the threat of ISIS became too urgent for even Hagel to ignore, as senior military leaders began pushing for ground troops.
The real problem is in the White House, not at the Pentagon. Given that, only a greater fool than Hagel would rush to replace him.
Senior Editor-at-Large Joel B. Pollak edits Breitbart California and is the author of the new ebook, Wacko Birds: The Fall (and Rise) of the Tea Party, available for Amazon Kindle.
Follow Joel on Twitter: @joelpollak