The interview represents Hagel’s first extensive public comments since leaving office under fire back in February. Hagel was stunned by President Obama’s order to have troops stand down in August 2013, nine days after the Assad regime deployed chemical weapons crossing Obama’s own red line.
Whether it was the right decision or not, history will determine that,” said Hagel, “There’s no question in my mind that it hurt the credibility of the president’s word when this occurred.”
Various world leaders told Hagel that Obama’s about-face had shaken their confidence in him. “Hagel stated, “A president’s word is a big thing, and when the president says things, that’s a big deal.”
For its part, an unnamed senior White House official told Foreign Policy that Obama wasn’t prepared to take military action in Syria without Congressional approval. This is precious when you consider that Obama had no such reservations where it concerned military involvement in Libya.
As for Hagel, he is otherwise respectful towards President Obama himself although he does not think much of other White House personnel, National Security Adviser Susan Rice in particular with whom he clashed over Syria and Gitmo. While not mentioning her by name, Hagel takes Rice to task for running lengthy meetings without arriving at any decisions.
Things became untenable for Hagel in October 2014 when he sent a memo to Rice and Secretary of State John Kerry with a c.c. to Obama bluntly stating the administration did not have a policy on Syria. Hagel says even after his resignation that various White House officials were trying to “destroy” him.
With regard to Syra, Hagel indicated says the Obama Administration is “still struggling with a political strategy” although he did praise Kerry’s recent efforts. Nevertheless, Hagel’s criticisms follow the pattern established by his predecessors Bob Gates and Leon Panetta. With current Defense Secretary Ash Carter in hot water over his own e-mail scandal one wonders how long it will be before he becomes the fourth Obama Defense Secretary to publicly criticize the Obama Administration for its incompetence?
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