In a shocking interview in Foreign Policy Magazine, former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel accused White House officials of trying to “destroy” him personally in his last days in office. The comments have sent a stream of commentary across Washington and suggest a further erosion of the President’s legacy on foreign policy.
Hagel resigned in late 2014 after he took issue with the administration’s decision-making process, and especially President Obama’s decision not to punish Syria for its use of chemical weapons, ordering the military to stand down on August 30, 2013. This came in the wake of the President’s declaration that the use of chemical weapons would be a “red line.” In Hagel’s view, he told Foreign Policy, “A president’s word is a big thing, and when the president says things, that’s a big deal.” Hagel’s critique of the decision-making process was covered in an earlier post.
According to the interview, Hagel had a “very good, positive relationship with the president,” and was deeply surprised when, after the resignation but before he had formally left office, unnamed administration officials made disparaging comments about Hagel, including a New York Times report that quoted officials citing his “passivity” and blamed him for failing to implement the decision to shut down the prison at Guantanamo Bay.
Although he does not identify her by name, Hagel’s criticisms are clearly aimed at Obama’s national security advisor, Susan Rice, and some of her staff. Hagel’s former aides, and former White House officials, say the defense secretary frequently butted heads with Rice over Syria policy and the U.S. military prison at Guantánamo.
This report comes on the same day when the White House is scrambling to address claims of further flip-flopping on Syria, and accusations of subordinating American positions to those of Russia and Iran. Earlier this week, Secretary of State John Kerry appeared to capitulate on the long-standing American demand that Assad leave Syria before any deal be reached. Earlier this month, the President made similarly ambiguous comments in his joint White House press conference with French President Francois Hollande. And in a press conference today, the President suggested that the US would “respect” Iran’s “equities” in Syria.
For his part, Hagel seemed surprised that the White House would disparage him after serving as Defense Secretary for two years:
They already had my resignation, so what was the point of just continuing to try to destroy me?… I don’t know what the purpose was. To this day, I’m still mystified by that. But I move forward. I’m proud of my service.
Read more at The Tower.