Monday, November 24, 2014

Chuck Hagel resigns: was he too militant or not militant enough in pursuing New Hitler?

Chuck Hagel resigned as Secretary of Defense today. It's pretty clear he was fired.

The Young Turks discuss Hagel's resignation/firing in Pentagon Boss Chuck Hagel Fired - Why And What Now?

This is the PBS Newshour report on the resignation, Why is Chuck Hagel stepping down? 11/24/2014. One of the two guests interviewed is neoconservative Thomas Donnelly from AEI, aka, Neocon Central. The other is P.J. Crowley, a former Assistant Secretary of State in the Obama Administration.

Robert Reich posted on Facebook today that he thinks Hagel was dumped from being Defense Secretary because Obama and his advisers think Hagel's not enthusiastic enough for more wars:

Why is Chuck Hagel being canned after having been Defense chief for less than two years? Competence aside, part of the answer is the White House has moved from seeing events in Iraq and Syria through the Vietnam lens to the Nazi Germany lens, and Hagel is still seeing them as Vietnam.

For the last fifty years, American foreign policy has swung between two polar-opposite views: Through the Vietnam lens, we don’t want to be dragged into foreign civil wars that can end up costing tens of thousands of American lives. But through the Nazi Germany lens, we must stop barbarous and aggressive fascist movements before they overwhelm civilization. Obama himself began with Vietnam lenses but he and his advisers view the Islamic State as more like Nazi Germany.
I hope Reich is wrong about the Obama team seeing Middle East crises through a "Nazi Germany" lens. One of the biggest problems in US foreign policy since the Second World War is that policymakers inflate opponents in "Hitler." It gets particularly dysfunctional in a situation like Syria where no one can really decide whether the New Hitler is the Islamic State group or their mortal enemy the Assad regime.

One of the most useful books I've ever read on US foreign policy - one we're unlikely to see Little Tommy Friedman ever quoting - is The Specter of Munich: Reconsidering the Lessons of Appeasing Hitler (2006) by Jeffrey Record of the Army Air War College; a version of it is available via that link. He thinks the "Munich analogy" has been so overused that it not only ignores the real history of "Munich" in 1938 and why it was a bad policy for the West but also leads to wildly inflating threats and over-reacting in self-destructive ways. As he puts it, the real Hitler and Nazi Germany were not only enormously powerful militarily (and got a huge boost from the Skoda arms factories they got in Czechoslovakia from the Munich Agreement) but were also "unappeasable *and* undeterrable." And, "No post-1945 foreign dictatorship bears genuine comparison to the Nazi dictatorship."

When Chicken Littles like Sen. Lindsay Graham squawk that the Islamic State is going to come "kill us all" in the United States, that's just crackpot warmongering. Only bad policy comes out of that.

Historian Andrew Bacevich has been one of the best analysts of US military affairs for the last decade plus. He has basically a conservative-realist framework for looking about foreign and military policy, based on the thinking of Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr. He has meaningful criticisms of both Democratic and Republican thinking on foreign policy without falling into the vapid Both Sides Do It cliches our star pundits so often use. This piece of his at TomDispatch addresses the current poor state of US foreign policy, Malarkey on the Potomac: Five Bedrock Washington Assumptions That Are Hot Air (with an introduction by Tom Engelhardt) 11/23/2014.

But as The Young Turks discuss in the clip above, it's not entirely clear that Hagel is being pushed out because of his caution and restraint.

Chemi Shalev writs in The bitter irony is that Israel is the sorriest to see Hagel go Haaretz 11/24/2014:

Hagel was brought in to withdraw American forces from Iraq and Afghanistan at a time of severe budgetary cuts, but reality in the Middle East and elsewhere had other plans. Rightly or wrongly, through its own fault or that of others, the Pentagon has been perceived in recent months as being caught flat-footed by the rampage of Islamic State in Iraq, the survival of Bashar Assad in Syria, the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan, the belligerency of Vladimir Putin in Ukraine and more. Under these circumstances, the credibility of America’s veiled threat that “all options are on the table” against Iran also took a serious hit.

But rather than displaying the kind of resolute confidence and leadership needed in such dangerous times, Hagel often sounded like Chicken Little shouting “the sky is falling.” He told Charlie Rose only last week that ISIS is “an incredibly powerful new threat” to every interest we have, the likes of which have never been seen before. Hagel’s panicky overkill, which already rankled Obama back when he still referred to ISIS as “junior varsity” may have been the final nail in his coffin: better the momentary embarrassment of an appointment gone wrong, Obama’s advisers reasoned, than the long term damage incurred by a defense secretary who sometimes sounds as if he hasn't convinced even himself that he can get the job done. [my emphasis]
For the next Secretary of Defense, I hope he Obama at least finds a Democrat to nominate this time.

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