Jet-lagged from a long overseas trip, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel had just sat down with his wife for a quiet dinner at an upscale Italian restaurant in northern Virginia when his phone rang. It was the White House on the line. President Barack Obama wanted to speak with him.
It was Aug. 30, 2013, and the U.S. military was poised for war. Obama had publicly warned Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad that his regime would face consequences if it crossed a “red line” by employing chemical weapons against its own people. Assad did it anyway, and Hagel had spent the day approving final plans for a barrage of Tomahawk cruise missile strikes against Damascus. U.S. naval destroyers were in the Mediterranean, awaiting orders to fire.
Instead, Obama told a stunned Hagel to stand down. Assad’s Aug. 21 chemical attack in a Damascus suburb had killed hundreds of civilians, but the president said the United States wasn’t going to take any military action against the Syrian government. The president had decided to ignore his own red line — a decision, Hagel believes, that dealt a severe blow to the credibility of both Obama and the United States.
“Whether it was the right decision or not, history will determine that,” Hagel told Foreign Policy in a two-hour interview, his first extensive public comments since he was forced out of his position in February. “There’s no question in my mind that it hurt the credibility of the president’s word when this occurred.”
In the days and months afterward, Hagel’s counterparts around the world told him their confidence in Washington had been shaken over Obama’s sudden about-face. And the former defense secretary said he still hears complaints to this day from foreign leaders.
“A president’s word is a big thing, and when the president says things, that’s a big deal,” he said.
Hagel, now that time has passed and he’s willing to discuss his tenure in office, cited the episode as an example of a White House that has struggled to formulate a coherent policy on Syria, holding interminable meetings that would often end without a decision, even as conditions on the ground worsened and the death toll grew steadily higher.
The 69-year-old former Nebraska senator and Vietnam War veteran, speaking for the first time about his treatment by the Obama administration, said the Pentagon was subject to debilitating meddling and micromanagement by the White House — echoing criticism made by his predecessors, Robert Gates and Leon Panetta.
Looking back on his tenure, Hagel said in the Dec. 10 interview that he remains puzzled as to why some administration officials sought to “destroy” him personally in his final days in office, castigating him in anonymous comments to newspapers even after he had handed in his resignation.
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.
Again, no one, absolutely no one, should be surprised by another account of indecisiveness in the Obama White House. And, nor should we expect him to act otherwise. This president thinks too much in terms of what if, “if I did this, what would happen?” While one should be aware every action has a consequence, it should not be to a point of paralysis.
I believe Obama should have bombed Assad when he crossed the set red line.
Hypocrisy is by Repubs. who said we’d be helping Al-Queda infiltrated rebels if we bombed Assad.-Same Repubs who retroactively say taking out Gadaffi (sic) was a mistake.
Hind-sight truly 20/20 in these difficult decisions.
Was BHO a wild cowboy in Libya and Egypt then became a puss in Syria?
Should we go big on the ground against ISIS?
How bout The Donald’s new bestie–should we belly up with that thug.
chucky is a border line personality disorder-no cure. he was not qualified for the job in the first place. he also has a problem with alcohol. treats his staff like dirt. typical liberal and now trying to rum from the fool
Was the right in favor of military action against Gaddafi or opposed to military action against Gaddafi?
Is the right in favor of military action against al Assad, or opposed to military action against al Assad?
Is the right anti-Putin, or do they admire Vladimir Putin?
It all depends on what it takes to find maximum fault with Obama at any given point in time.
Remember, these are the people who yap hysterically about the danger of ISIS while claiming the President who has been waging war against ISIS for over a year has done nothing.
They’re the people who condemn the administration for failing to take note of imaginary public posts made by terrorists, but who condemned the NSA’s data mining efforts to reveal terrorist communications and intentions.
They’re the same people who, after nearly a year, still haven’t taken up the President’s request for authorization to use military action against ISIS, because they’re concerned about the political risks.
@Rich Wheeler: Why should we have even been involved in Syria’s civil war?
@Greg: We had no business getting involved in Libya, other than what has been revealed in Hillary’s emails, that she and Blumenthal stood to gain economically. We had no business taking military action to depose Assad. None. Bush had Qaddafi fearing for his life and complacent. Obama, with his feline tendencies, changed that, but still Qaddafi posed no threat to the US. Neither did Assad.
YOU are the people that denounced the Patriot Act when Bush proposed it but had no problem with Obama renewing it repeatedly and taking the data collection to new, more intrusive levels (while, as we know now, they think it improper to look at Facebook posts of immigrants). Behold hypocrisy, thy name is liberal.
@Bill #5 –
You have insulted felines, world over, by comparing Obama with them, LOL. 🙂
Have a Merry Christmas!!!
A little OT
Hasn’t it been revealed, a few weeks ago our forces who conduct bombings against ISIS/ISIL/Daesh were sent out only to be called back without dropping any…?
The WH ‘claim’ there have been 9,000 attacks on ISIS/ISIL/Daesh over the past year.
And really, even if it is true, that is only on average 4 times a month. An average ‘attack’ well planned on targets, each building, truck, SUV, tank etc… counts as one target hit. So, a ‘run’ could hit on average 120 targets, up to 240 in a night. That adds up fast.
While a 9000 ‘number’ sounds like they are doing something….it’s in reality not much…numbers should be unrelenting…
Syria, Libya…not our ‘wars’ …being involved mistake…Obama and crew in the pockets of Saudi Arabia.
Right there is the fatal flaw in this argument. This President’s word means crap.
The biggest damn liar in history.
Well put, David.
Obama has said he has to wait until ALL the facts are known before acting.
That means forever.
ALL the facts are NEVER known.
Over his first term and in to his 2nd I had heard rumors that he was sending secret letters and emmisaries in to Iran, to the Ayatollah.
Turned out to be true.
Odd because Obama claims to be paralyzed to inaction by the presence of one civilian in Iraq or Syria but put up with Iran’s tortures and executions of every student who hoped Iran could join his ”Arab Spring.”
Hagel wrote that any meetings without Obama went super long and accomplished nothing, but IF Obama were there the meetings were very fast.
This agrees with a secret leaker about how Obama took meetings in his 1st term…..
He wore shorts, polo shirts and go-aheads.
He spread himself over the arms of an overstuffed chair with the flip-flops wagging over the side.
He allowed meetings during commercials of his huge screen TV set on ESPN.
And, if you were lucky, he let you stay (standing quietly) until the next commercial break.
Then you were excused.
He never turned down the volume even while you tried to impress him with how important your information was.
Oh, and there was a giant, filthy ashtray on the desk.
@Bill: You were against U.S. intervention to deter the killing of civilians in Libya and Syria
Assume you felt the same about our intervention in Iraq..
Note—interesting how Trump and Obama agreed we should not invade Iraq.
@Rich Wheeler: Our intervention in Iraq was not about Hussein’s abuse of his citizens; it was about a threat of him providing WMD’s to terrorists.
When human rights violations occur, it is supposed to be the job of the UN to intervene…. that is what the f**k it was created for. However, they are too busy salivating over bribes and the climate scam windfall to worry about the slaughter of civilians, so we have what we have.
You want the US to go about the world making people play nice with each other? Most likely, like the rest of the left, your concern is flexible, depending on who is in office and what the game is.