Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Chuck Hagel: A Soldier among Chickenhawks

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Chuck Hagel: A Soldier among Chickenhawks

Article excerpt

Chuck Hagel's departure from his post as defense secretary has been attributed to his failure to fit in with the Obama cabinet's crowd. Among his other reported deficiencies was that he was only a sergeant in Vietnam, twice wounded.

A twice-wounded veteran, I should think, would make him a rare specimen in a Washington packed full of senators and congressmen, and State Department and National Security Council staffwho assume that they know more about war than military theorist Carl von Clausewitz, and unwounded but heavily decorated generals eager to get back to showing their stuff, as in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

(As I have noted before, the most celebrated of those, David Petraeus, when he resigned from the army, was entitled to display more than 50 items of military adornment up one side and down the other of his chest, none of them an award for wounds suffered in combat. One understands why a former sergeant may be thought a social embarrassment, especially if he calls himself "Chuck.")

Sgt. Hagel's real problem seems to have been to support too many wars for President Barack Obama (agreeing with the generals that airplanes don't win wars) and too few of them for the Pentagon and some of the aggressively ideological ladies in the State Department and on the White House staff. The president was elected on a platform of ending the war in Iraq, already presumed effectively won, and to expedite victory in the more important war in Afghanistan, where Osama bin Laden made his home.

Many of Secretary Hagel's fellow Republicans blame him because he did not find a way to override Iraq's refusal to allow American forces to remain in their country under the only circumstances the Pentagon would accept-with a status of forces agreement that preserved them from any kind of Iraqi oversight or any accountability to Iraqi officials or courts. If he had done so (and how? this was a matter of Iraq's national sovereignty) his critics say that the so-called Islamic State would have been strangled in its crib.

In Afghanistan the Pentagon did kill the 9/11 villain, Osama bin Laden (before Hagel's time). Under Hagel's stewardship the generals worked out a status of forces agreement allowing some U.S. troops to remain in that country with a limited mission to 2016, beyond their previously agreed departure date at the end of 2014. What they will accomplish is not by any stretch of imagination the victory Mr. Obama promised. …

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