Possible Motives for Ousting Hagel

Exclusive: At the start of Barack Obama’s second term, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel was seen as the best hope for standing up to the neocons, inside and outside the administration. Though Hagel proved to be a weak champion, his sudden removal could portend more trouble ahead, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

The abrupt resignation of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel along with the failure to reach a final agreement on Iran’s nuclear program on the same day does not augur well for the last quarter of Barack Obama’s presidency, reflecting his continuing tendency to let the neocons have their way.

Not that Hagel had distinguished himself as a sterling leader of the Pentagon nor has all hope disappeared that a sensible resolution of the impasse with Iran might be achieved before the next “deadline” in June but Obama still does not appear to have escaped the spell of the neocons who continue to dominate American geopolitical thought despite the bloody disasters that they helped cause in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel shakes hands with President Barack Obama at the White House on Nov. 24, 2014, as the President announces that Hagel is resigning. (U.S..government photo)

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel shakes hands with President Barack Obama at the White House on Nov. 24, 2014, as the President announces that Hagel is resigning. (U.S..government photo)

Six years into his presidency, Obama still doesn’t seem to understand that just because some people have impressive credentials doesn’t mean they know what they’re doing. Indeed, in a profoundly corrupted system like the one that now controls Official Washington rewards are handed out to people who serve the corrupt interests or at least don’t get in the way.

In a time of corruption, the countervailing forces of wisdom and courage will never be found among the credentialed, but rather among the outcasts of the establishment, those who were forced to the margins because they objected to the venality, because they stood up against misguided “group think.”

But Obama has been unwilling or possibly unable to come to grips with this reality. Despite his personal intelligence and rhetorical skills, Obama never has been willing to challenge people cloaked in credentials those who went to the best schools, worked at big-name firms, won prestigious awards or held fellowships at famous think tanks.

The tragedy of Obama is that I’m told that he understands the stupidity of the modern U.S. establishment and does sometimes consult with “realists” who offer practical advice for how he can resolve some of the most nettlesome problems facing the United States around the world. But he does so virtually in secret, with what politicians like to call “deniability.”

Obama operates one foreign policy above the table pounding his fist along with the neocons against Syria, Iran and Russia and another foreign policy below the table, dealing with adversaries in ways necessary to confront global challenges, such as collaborating with Iran to counter the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and with Russia to address challenges with Iran, Syria, Libya and elsewhere.

Yet, while keeping such pragmatic overtures under the table, Obama reaches out publicly to neocons who have been implicated in some of the worst disasters in the history of U.S. foreign policy — but who have “credentials.” For instance, earlier this year, Obama was stung by criticism from neocon ideologue Robert Kagan, who had published a long essay in The New Republic promoting the need for more U.S. interventionism around the world.

Obama could have dismissed Kagan’s New Republic article as the pretentious pontifications of a blowhard whose career began as a propagandist for Ronald Reagan’s Central American policies in the 1980s and included, in the 1990s, co-founding the Project for the New American Century, which called for invading Iraq, an illegal war that was launched in 2003, propelling America into the current catastrophes now swirling around the Middle East.

But Obama apparently couldn’t get past all of Kagan’s “credentials,” including his current work at the prestigious Brookings Institution and his writing for the oh-so-impressive New Republic. So, Obama invited Kagan to lunch at the White House, a cozy get-together that one observer described as a “meeting of equals.”

Yes, the twice-elected President of the United States and his “equal,” one of the co-founders of the neocon Project for the New American Century. The New York Times reported that Obama even shaped his foreign policy speech at the West Point graduation in May to address criticism from Kagan’s New Republic essay, “Superpowers Don’t Get to Retire.”

Off to The Hague

You might think that the only reason to invite one of the Iraq War architects to the White House would be as a “sting operation” to arrest him and trundle him off to The Hague for prosecution for war crimes. After all, the justices at the post-World War II Nuremberg Tribunals deemed aggression starting an unprovoked war “the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.” And we have certainly seen that “accumulated evil” get unpacked.

Yet, Obama courted Kagan as a respected “equal,” according to one source familiar with the behavior of the two men at lunch. Although as a journalist I try not to react viscerally to what I hear, the phrase “a meeting of equals” brought the taste of vomit to the back of my throat.

I couldn’t help but recall the reported outburst by President Abraham Lincoln after his reelection as he struggled to secure the necessary votes for passing the Thirteenth Amendment to abolish slavery: “I am the President of the United States, clothed with immense power, and I expect you to procure those votes” (as recounted years later by Congressman James Alley).

However, after also winning the presidency a second time, President Obama couldn’t seem to find his inner Lincoln.

In trying to understand what makes Obama tick, I have often been struck by how he seems awed by credentials, perhaps because credentials were the key to his unlikely rise from an obscure and exotic background to edit the Harvard Law Review, to build an academic career, to gain a U.S. Senate seat, and to win the presidency of the United States. Along the way, he got “blessed” by many of the “right” people and never strayed too far from the safety of the “establishment.”

Even as a twice-elected president, Obama seems captive to this high regard for people with credentials, even when the system awarding those credentials daily demonstrates its extraordinary levels of corruption, cruelty and outright stupidity.

Which brings us back to the apparently forced resignation of Chuck Hagel, who earned the enmity of Official Washington because he was an early Republican turning against the Iraq War and because he offered some mild criticism of the Israel Lobby.

On the surface, Obama’s abandonment of Hagel while retaining the bombastic neocon-approved Secretary of State John Kerry and other war hawks like U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power and Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland (Kagan’s wife) suggests that Obama may be again bending his foreign policy in directions favored by the neocons and their sidekicks, the “liberal interventionists.”

That could presage further disasters if Obama adopts the neocon strategy of ratcheting up tensions with Iran over its nuclear program and bombing the Syrian military in a move to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad with both “regime change” goals high on the agenda of Israel’s right-wing government.

Yet, since Iran has been playing a key role in taking on the Islamic State militants in both Iraq and Syria and since Assad’s army is the only force capable of holding back Islamic extremists inside Syria the neocon “regime change” plan is reckless in the extreme. A very possible result from such a U.S. intervention against Assad would be a military victory for Al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front or the even more extreme Islamic State.

There’s also the neocon desire for a new Cold War with Russia over Ukraine. It’s possible that Hagel, a Vietnam veteran who understands the ugliness of war and has no fondness for the neocons, is being sidelined because he isn’t willing to throw more young American men and women into the blood and horror of more neocon-inspired adventures, not to mention wasting hundreds of billions of dollars in taxpayers’ money.

But Hagel’s erratic performance as Defense Secretary often coming across as inarticulate and imprecise could represent a less consequential reason for the change at the Pentagon. Perhaps, Obama simply wants someone who is more skilled at the job.

[For more on the neocons and U.S. foreign policy, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Delusional US ‘Group Think’ on Syria and Ukaine.”]

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com). For a limited time, you also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here.

30 comments for “Possible Motives for Ousting Hagel

  1. Bruce
    November 30, 2014 at 12:00

    0bama IS a Neoon PNAC Attacker, MADE as president by fellow Company (CIA) syndicate crime boss, Poppy of the Burning BUSHS!

  2. Carl Peterson
    November 29, 2014 at 00:17

    What I noticed just before Hagel was selected is that he appeared to have early signs of dementia. He was not the lively, sharp Chuck Hagel of before. I wondered at the time if they had properly vetted his medical condition, and I expected that he would not last long as Secretary of Defense.

    The reason why he was asked to leave may simply be that mentally he was not up to the job.

  3. November 26, 2014 at 05:09

    I think there is a mistaken assumption here; namely that Obama was ever an independent operator. Obama went to Wall Street and other power centers before 2008 and won their backing. Wall Street knew it would need additional help and Obama volunteered. While sincere supporters rejoiced at the campaign and election, Obama came back to DC to make sure the first bailout passed and then appointed Tim Geithner at Treasury before inauguration. That was it. The war party came along with Obama allowing Wall Street to collect their welfare. Now it’s time for a new Cold War and a ten year war against ISIL/IS. War profiteering requires threats of war. It’s that simple.

    Obama is not in charge and does not deserve the majority of the blame, his patrons take that honor. But, he is a morally vacant functionary who has enabled the killing of many and the destruction of entire nations. Some legacy.

  4. Masud Awan
    November 25, 2014 at 18:46

    Anyone who knows well that there are forces in this world who are more powerful than American presidents and still dares to stand for presidential election, is intelligent enough to understand where and when to weald his power and where to act as poodle. In his 362 page ‘the Audacity of Hope’ Obama discussed almost every topic of political interest. But for the most contentious topic – the /Palestine question – he devoted only one page where the word ‘Paletine’ is mentioned only once. And I was wondering where was the Audacity! But then I realised the necessity of ignoring Palestine to earn the seriousness of being a presidential candidate. If Obama knew then where the epicentre of world’s power was, why should he be different now?

  5. Frances Raino
    November 25, 2014 at 15:50

    I think this is a nuch more accurate assessment of our president”s military endeavors during his tenure as president.

    Is Obama Weak on Foreign Policy?
    by Ivan Eland, November 25, 2014

    One reason that Barack Obama is slumping in the polls is that Republicans have successfully painted him as weak on foreign policy. Yet, during his tenure so far, Obama has used air power to oust Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, surged American forces in Afghanistan to satisfy the U.S. military, re-entered the civil war in Iraq, and extended the bombing to Syria. He found and killed Osama bin Laden, which George W. Bush was not focused enough to do for seven years, and also expanded Bush’s drone wars against terrorists in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. Obama’s “pivot to Asia” really means beefing up U.S. alliances and military presence to run a neo-containment policy against a rising China. Finally, Obama is augmenting military forces and conducting more NATO exercises in Eastern Europe in response to Russia’s mischief in Ukraine. Only to an American public that has long forgotten the nation’s founders’ military restraint, and embraced the post-World War II policy aberration of acting as the world’s policeman, would this record seem weak.


  6. Anand Shah
    November 25, 2014 at 15:42

    can somebody square why john mcCain, who is a definition of neocon, is angry that Chuck Hagel, was let go ?


    • Zachary Smith
      November 25, 2014 at 23:45

      From your link:

      Arizona Sen. John McCain has blasted the Obama administration for forcing Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to quit, saying “he was up to the job.”

      From what I can find by looking at old news stories, McCain opposed Hagel every step of the way back in 2013. The old SOB is merely looking for another way to get his mug in front of a TV camera.

    • Abe
      November 25, 2014 at 23:49

      “I do not believe that Chuck Hagel, who is a friend of mine, is qualified to be secretary of defense.” – February 2013

      “Well, believe me, he was up to the job. It was the job he was given…” – November 2014

      Senator Flip-Flop is posturing before he takes the gavel at the Obama Roast / Armed Services Committee confirmation hearings.

  7. Verda Ingle
    November 25, 2014 at 13:58

    Good comments on this thread.

  8. Verda Ingle
    November 25, 2014 at 13:37

    I agree John.

  9. John
    November 25, 2014 at 12:47

    Excellent article and good criticism. I suspect that anyone of principle would have promptly exposed coercion so grave as to dominate the chief exec, regardless of the personal cost. He must be judged by his inaction. He was funded early by zionists, and failed to address any of the grave distortions of power in the nation even with a sympathetic Congress in his first two years.

    There may be some value in allowing him honorable motives so as to suggest more honorable paths at this point, but little cause to believe that he will take them.

  10. Andrew
    November 25, 2014 at 10:22

    Earlier members of Obama’s cabinet resigned and published books trashing the president for not being hawkish enough. Maybe Hagel will write one that criticizes him for listening too much to the neo-cons and humanitarian bombers.

  11. November 25, 2014 at 05:16

    Obama will be the right decision. If these steps are threatened by MIC theory is proposed and resolved soon

  12. Potty
    November 25, 2014 at 04:29

    You don’t think that Obama isn’t being blackmailed by the MIC by any chance do you? Its as reasonable a theory as any other that’s been put forward in this article.

  13. Samuel Brinaon
    November 25, 2014 at 02:46

    I too am bewildered by the resignation of Mr, Hagel and find it hard to accept without further explanation. When the President picked Lawrence Summers, Henry Paulson and Timothy Geithner to fill cabinet posts, I was suddenly in fear that a mis-judgement had been made because the three men had been cited previously for being obstinate in their opinions and were driven to seek extra personal wealth and prestige no matter the costs. And when Cornel West became outraged about the Summers appointment, I took the President’s side. My thinking was; the President is a very intelligent man, he is picking these guys for what they know about from where they came. that he was bringing his friends close but his enemies closer to see both sides. But now this Hagel decision has me worried. Seemingly, it implies the neocons are becoming the tail that’s wagging the dog. It is pathetic sight, I wish not to see. Its like seeing a couple of lions take down a sick elephant.

  14. Verda Ingle
    November 25, 2014 at 01:28

    Mr. Parry,

    I enjoy all your work, but I like this article even more than usual—because you address the enigma of Barack Obama: his maddening deference to people and influences that seem at odds with his political rhetoric. He says what progressives want to hear and we gullibly eat it up; then we make excuses for him when he lets us down.

    What are we to make of this man? (I often share your “urge to vomit”.)

    I had doubts about Obama from the first time he ran; he had some shady associates from his past that gave me concern. But the minute he was elected he appointed Geithner and the rest of those guys, and I knew we were sunk. He showed us who he was in those early days, even before his inauguration. They were his real friends, not us.

    Your best line of all:
    “In a time of corruption, the countervailing forces of wisdom and courage will never be found among the credentialed, but rather among the outcasts of the establishment, those who were forced to the margins because they objected to the venality, because they stood up against misguided ‘group think.’”

    This for sure is a time of corruption; everything is upside down.

  15. Abe
    November 25, 2014 at 00:49

    Object lesson: Don’t do dumb things

  16. Frances Raino
    November 25, 2014 at 00:11

    Mr. Parry,
    I’ve read a number of your articles, on your site, but mostly articles you’ve written that were posted elsewhere. I find you to be an apologist for Obama, and I don’t understand why. I don’t understand how you see him as anything other then a president who has been aggressive in terms of military policy, a policy that is not all that different from the previous administration in terms of it’s goals. Obama is just more subtle in his approach.

    • W. R. Knight
      November 25, 2014 at 00:38

      Obama is anything but aggressive. He is ignorant on matters of history and foreign policy, and he is weak, naive, incompetent and easily manipulated. But aggressive he is not.
      Just think about it. If he were aggressive, he would not have caved in to every Republican demand.

      • Frances Raino
        November 25, 2014 at 01:13

        You manage to make a Harvard law school graduate, who became America’s first black president sound like an idiot. Instead of seeing him as someone esily manipulated, I see him as an oportunist. That is all I will say!

        • Rusty Shackleford
          November 25, 2014 at 05:35

          Both of you are wrong. All three, if I’m to include Mr. Parry. Obama is a neocon through and through. I would think men as articulate and intelligent as yourselves would know better than to judge a politician according to his words, rather than his actions. Mr. Obama has made a very successful career out of playing the foiled and frustrated moderate, while entrenching and expanding every one of the objectively illegal and inherently immoral programs put into place by his predecessors, and more importantly, by the bipartisan behind-the-scenes establishment that actually makes the decisions in DC.

          Highly disappointed, Mr. Parry.

  17. Zachary Smith
    November 24, 2014 at 22:53

    General Dempsey on November 13:

    For the second time since the U.S.-led effort to counter ISIS began, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, said he would not rule out asking the President to send U.S. ground troops into Iraq.

    Secretary Hagel on November 16:

    But these would not be fighting forces, Hagel said. “There will be no American combat troops in Iraq or Syria.”

    In other words, over my dead body. Which the limp creature of the neocons promptly provided, for BHO was the one who made the choice.

    Background of the two: Dempsey graduated from West Point in 1974. I doubt if he has EVER had a bullet whiz past his ears. Contrast that with Hagel in Vietnam and his experience as a squad leader. Two Purple Hearts. His vow: ‘If I ever get out of this and I’m ever in a position to influence policy, I will do everything I can to avoid needless, senseless war.'”

    Hagel wanted to get into such a position of influence so badly that he groveled during the confirmation hearings. For all the good it did him: like the Beautiful People surrounding him, BHO also sees war as an exciting video game. One where you can press a button and ten thousand miles away a gang of terrorists not-too-cleverly disguised as a wedding party gets blown to itty bitty bits. Hell, it’s something you can make jokes about!

    I like the “credentials” theory. Hagel was a senator and co-equal of BHO – a nobody. And in Vietnam, a mere Sergeant. Those drab stripes sure don’t dazzle the eyes like the stars on Dempsey. BTW, my reading says the insubordinate little guy with the high rank who admires Israel’s work in Gaza is definitely one of the “inner circle’ members at the White House.

    From here it looks like the neocons win. Best guess: they’ll continue to maneuver to expand the chaos in the Mideast. To keep pushing Russian so as to renew the Cold War. Both of these events are exciting prospects for Israel.

    Since Israeli governments proved time and again that “facts on the ground” are very hard to change, and given the distinct possibility that the shifting balance of world-power will dramatically fortify Israel as an irreplaceable ally for the west, the successful enactment of apartheid will postpone indefinitely the creation of a Palestinian state and shift the site of conflict and oppression from the occupied territories to the very core of Israeli society. This is the end of Zionism, its final result – a Jewish state that embodies the rationale of anti-Semitism.


    You see, destabilizing Ukraine has some unexpected benefits for the shitty little nation on the east end of the Mediterranean. They become too important to US plans – no more bothering them about their murders and ethnic cleansing. And if matters get to the point where a few nukes got exchanged between the Big Boys, guess who benefits yet again?

    • RockyRacoon
      November 24, 2014 at 23:30

      Tel Aviv is on the hit list right up there with Washington Manhattan and LA. and rightly so.

    • Joe Tedesky
      November 24, 2014 at 23:42

      I would like to sign on to everything Zachary here, has just stated. This whole affair is like watching our elected government being run by a hidden cabal of warmongers from beneath the surface.

      Back in the GWBush days Hagel was often one of the few who spoke out against the PNAC strategy. I started to admire him. I recall Hagel telling of how his GI Bill benefits enabled him to get an education. How this education changed much of how he would view the world, and especially war. Hagel’s war experience added a whole other dimension to him…and for the peaceful better side of him, at that. This was unique, and this was coming from a Republican, of all things.

      So, today seeing the headlines of Hagel’s resignation I shuddered in dismay. Sure, Hagel isn’t free of sin, but amongst his equals he was someone you could hope would vote to do the right thing…now, I just don’t know.

      • toby
        November 25, 2014 at 08:57

        I’m with you Joe. I prayed for Hagel’s appointment, but in my heart I knew it would not last. Now they (the warmongers behind O’bomber) will come in on their silver missile and destroy the USA’s small bit of integrity we HAD left.

        Personally, I hope O’bomber is haunted with what he does now for the rest of his life. It won’t be good…he works for lucifer (Israel) now…not the US citizens.

        • Floridahank
          November 28, 2014 at 21:25

          Obama has no conscience and he doesn’t know good from evil. In many ways he a stupid man.

    • Abe
      November 25, 2014 at 13:29

      Dempsey demonstrated his allegiance by publicly complimenting the Israeli regime change project in Gaza.

      Hagel, eh, not so much.

      From the neocon perspective, Hagel has been insufficiently enthusiastic about the regime project for Syria and Iran.

      So it’s “Geh gesund.”

  18. Gregory Kruse
    November 24, 2014 at 22:33

    The best propaganda is delivered by a credible person with a large dollop of what people want to hear.

  19. Chet Roman
    November 24, 2014 at 22:19

    Credentials? The only important “credential” that Obama must pay obeisance to is whether the person is a senior member of the zionist/neocon network. Let’s remember who groomed and funded Obama career starting in Illinois; powerful zionists call Obama “the First Jewish President” during his 2008 campaign. I think it’s an error to think that Obama is impressed by academic or career credentials, politics doesn’t work like that and Obama is no fool. Political power is determined by money and power and Obama is obeying those that put him into office. Nothing else accurately accounts for Obama’s actions.

    What’s strange about firing Hagel is that in his recent interview with Charlie Rose Hagel was against the military budget cuts, something the neocons are also against. Anyway, Hagel was diminished after groveling before the Israeli lobby to get the appointment. The neocons may want a more aggressive warmonger to finish the implementation of the Project for a New (Israeli) Century and Obama, as always, is happy to oblige.

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