Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is on his way out and retired U.S. Navy Captain Chuck Nash says it had to happen as Obama’s inner circle kept Hagel away from the president and Hagel then went public with numerous frustrations.
Nash says it’s just the latest development in a disjointed foreign policy that has not responded effectively to numerous international crises and seems determined to chart a dangerous course by doggedly pursuing a nuclear deal with Iran that does not make the U.S. or any of our allies any safer.
The New York Times broke the story of Hagel’s resignation Monday morning, but the paper made it clear the Obama administration was forcing him out the door. Unnamed White House personnel suggested Hagel “was not up to the job”.
Nash says Hagel was an odd choice from the start and believes Obama simply wanted a Republican leader at the Pentagon as cover for major spending cuts conducted through sequestration. Ultimately, however, Nash says Monday’s news was inevitable as a growing frustration between Hagel and the White House became clear.
“Somebody’s got to go. The wheels are coming off all over the world. Things are in big trouble. Between the White House not having faith in Sec. Hagel and the discontent in the Pentagon, it’s time for somebody new, no matter how much your heart is in the job,” said Nash, noting that the nation is not well-served by a defense secretary kept at arm’s length.
“A lot of the senior (military) folks, they need a secretary who has the president’s ear, so that when they want to do stuff, they can talk to the secretary and hash it out and have their views forcefully represented over in the White House. That’s not what happened. President Obama surrounds himself with people he knows and trusts. That inner circle has his ear, and no one else,” said Nash.
The last straw, Nash believes, was a private disagreement between Hagel and National Security Adviser Susan Rice that quickly went public.
“He sent a memo to Susan Rice two weeks before the midterms, saying, ‘Hey, you’re micromanaging us over here, nitpicking. We need to knock that stuff off,’” he said.
Hagel then went on to give numerous interviews about national security policies that needed to change. While Hagel was not mentioned as the source in the stories, he was quickly discovered to be responsible and his days on the job were numbered.
A handful names are already being suggested as possible replacements for Hagel, most of them experts from an academic perspective rather than military veterans. Nash says the nominee won’t matter much unless the White House changes it’s approach to the Pentagon.
“Will there really be any policy changes coming out of the Defense Department when President Obama is not taking the advice and counsel but really driving things from the inner circle,” said Nash
The policy of great immediate concern to Nash and many other national security experts is the Obama administration’s determination to strike a nuclear deal with Iran. A deadline for a long-term deal has come and gone with the Iranians rejecting most American overtures. Nash says it’s clear the wrong side has leverage right now.
“The Iranians are going to do what they’re going to do. They realize that the administration is desperate for a deal. They’re just going to keep playing this out. In the meantime, the clock is ticking. They’re not even talking about getting together again for awhile,” said Nash. “You’ve got Secretary Kerry running around and everybody’s looking for a legacy. Right now, the legacy is that the world is burning up. They want to do something, get something, that they can stack up in the positive column.”
Nash says the past few weeks have shown an alarming lack of shrewdness at the bargaining table.
“If you’re doing a negotiation, what you don’t do is say, ‘OK, so here’s the line in the sand. Here’s the red line. OK, now we’re going to extend it.’ You just play right into their hands,” said Nash.
Another point of frustration for critics of the Obama administration’s approach to Iran, is the critical concession that the U.S. and our allies are allowing ongoing enrichment, just not at levels Iran wants to pursue. Previous administrations have insisted on no enrichment whatsoever.
“That’s already a done deal. So now they have enrichment. Once you have that, then all you have to do, depending on the number of centrifuges equals time. The more centrifuges you have, the less time it takes to get the quantity of nuclear material that you need at the right percentage. That is a threshold you can break through very quickly,” said Nash.
While not certain of all the diplomatic twists and turns to come in the next few months, Nash believes the U.S. is headed down a familiar and troubling road when it comes to Iranian nuclear ambitions.
“We’re going to figure out that the Iranians have the capability when they set off a test device. Just like how we figured out the Indians had one, and how the Pakistanis had one and how the North Koreans had one. We talk and talk and talk and talk until they set one off. Then we go, ‘Whoa. Now there are nukes. Now we have to treat them differently. Why? Because they’re a nuclear power ,” said Nash.