Getting rid of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel isn't going to be the solution for repairing the problems with President Barack Obama's foreign policy team, Sen. John McCain and other Washington insiders are saying.
Hagel, the only Republican on the Obama team of insiders, was "never really brought into that real tight circle inside the White House that makes all the decisions, which has put us into the incredible debacle that we're in today throughout the world," McCain, an Arizona Republican, told a radio interviewer, reports Politico.
And in an editorial in The New York Times,
Hagel was never the "core of the Obama administration's military problem. That lies with the president and a national security policy that has too often been incoherent and shifting at a time of mounting international challenges."
Hagel, who is staying in office until his replacement is confirmed, started the job from a position of weakness, the Times said, and he never really recovered. Although he is a highly decorated veteran of the Vietnam War, he underwent a crippling confirmation process in 2013, and found it difficult to communicate the administration's views. Further, he was often blocked from explaining American military strategy by Secretary of State John Kerry and Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Observers say Hagel was pushed to resign because of overseas military problems that include the continued fight to control the Islamic State (ISIS), the continuing strength of the Taliban in Afghanistan and Russia's aggressions against Ukraine, and that it was hoped that letting him go would stop some of the criticisms of Obama's foreign policy issues, reports Politico.
However, it has drawn even more attention to the White House, and National Security Adviser Susan Rice and Chief of Staff Denis McDonough are said to be bearing most of the responsibility for the nation's foreign policy decisions by cutting out mid-level officials from the process.
"The [National Security Council] process has gotten worse" since Rice took over, says a former administration foreign policy official.
But a senior administration official told Politico that "this is the same NSC process that's been running throughout this administration, which very much wants everybody's voices at the table."
Still, the official admitted that mid-level officials are blaming Rice for overseas failures after their policy positions were overruled in meetings she chaired, but that she did not attend.
"You have frustration among the deputies," admitted this official, but he said the deputies were overruled by their own supervisors, not Rice.
"There have been some things where they were out of lockstep with their bosses up the chain," the official said. "They feel like, 'wow, the White House is really turning it around.' But on a lot of these issues the problem was within their building — not with the White House."
And even before Rice started, Obama's first defense secretary, Robert Gates, complained that it was "micromanagement that drove me crazy" while the team was under Rice's predecessor, Tom Donilon.
McDonough has also become deeply involved in issues such as the Ebola outbreak and the Islamic State, causing friction about who holds authority, a source told Politico.
"Denis' response to every problem is to do more meetings, have more phone calls," the source said. "He ends up micromanaging everything."
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