Former Defense Secretaries Robert Gates, Leon Panetta, and Chuck Hagel criticized the Obama administration’s “operational micromanagement”, “cautiousness and overcorrection, which makes it appear that the United States is hesitant to take action”, and lack of understanding of “the tremendous responsibility the United States has” in interviews for the “Rising Threats: Shrinking Military” special that were broadcast on Wednesday’s “Special Report” on the Fox News Channel.
Gates said, “It was the operational micromanagement that drove me nuts. Of, White House and NSC staffers calling senior commanders out in the field and asking them questions, of second-guessing commanders.” And “When I was Deputy National Security Advisor, if I would have tried to, even as deputy, if I had tried to call a field commander, going around Dick Cheney, who was Secretary of Defense, or Colin Powell, who was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, I’d have had my head handed to me, probably personally by the president.”
Gates added that he “told the combatant commanders…If you get calls from the White House staff, you get a call from the president, that’s one thing. That’s totally okay. That’s the chain of command. But you get a call from one — some White House or National Security Council staffer, you tell them to call me instead, and then tell them, oh by the way, go to hell. And that’s directly from the Secretary of Defense.”
He further stated, “I think this was particularly true in Afghanistan, and I think there were people in the White House, who were constantly goading him, and saying the military’s trying to box you in. The military’s trying to trap you. The military’s trying to bully you. The military’s trying make you do something you don’t want to do, and I never believed any of that for a second.”
Panetta stated, “The National Security Council has grown enormously, which means you have a lot more staff people running around at the White House on these foreign policy issues. And very frankly, proximity is everything, when you’re operating at the White House. The person that’s closest to the president has greater influence than even a cabinet member, who may be located elsewhere in a department.
He further said, “Staff people tried to read, what is it that the president wants? And then try, through the back door, influence the direction of policy.” He added, “What that does is it undermines the very process that a president needs, in order to get the best discussion and information possible, to be able to make the right decisions.”
Panetta also argued that “Too often, people are kind of worried or second-guessing where the president wants to go, and they try to then shave their views to basically please the president.” “I think, what I’ve seen in these last four years is almost this cautiousness and overcorrection, which makes it appear that the United States is hesitant to take action. And that sends, I think, a message of weakness.”
Hagel said, “President Obama, he’s one of the youngest presidents we’ve ever had, one of the most inexperienced presidents we’ve ever had.” And that Obama “has a staff around him that is very inexperienced. I don’t think there’s one veteran on his senior staff at the White House. I don’t believe there’s one businessperson. I don’t believe there’s one person who has ever run anything.”
He added, “You must leaven the loaf. You must leaven your advisers where you get a lot of experience in different things, where he, the president himself, is so inexperienced.”
Hagel further argued the president has to “fundamentally understand, and I’m not sure he ever did, nor the people around him, the tremendous responsibility the United States has. Not to be the world’s policeman, but to lead, and we’re the only ones who can.”
Hagel also said, “Ambassador Rice would often start with, ‘This is what the president wants.’ Well, I’ve never thought that that’s the way our National Security Advisor should start a meeting with the National Security Council.” And “[T]here are always too many meetings, and always too many people in the room, and too many people talking. And you know, especially young, smart 35-year-old PhDs love to talk, because that’s the way you let everybody know how smart you are, is how much you talk. So, there were a lot of reasons those meetings kind of descended into kind of nonsense, and the hard time we had making a decision as a result of that.”
Follow Ian Hanchett on Twitter @IanHanchett