Thursday, January 31, 2013

Chuck Hagel, Defense Secretary Redundancy, and Obama’s Leadership

            With Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta retiring this year, his post is yet another Cabinet position which President Obama must refill for his second term.  Obama’s choice, former Nebraska senator Chuck Hagel, a Republican, has begun his confirmation hearing this week and his statements illustrate a disappointing trend in the President Obama’s leadership methods and style.

            Hagel’s stance on Israel:  strong support for the nation.  This, regrettably, has become a staple position of nearly every official in the State and Defense Department, as exhibiting even the slightest unease with Israel—one of the biggest international pariahs in the world—is tantamount to political suicide.  The United States is among a very short list of Israeli allies, a list which is short for good reason.  Barely a day goes by without Israel bombing Gaza, the West Bank, or even Syria, as occurred this past week, let alone its continuing expansion of illegal settlements in the West Bank.  The lack of political will to give Israel more than a slap on the wrist is embarrassing.
            Hagel’s stance on Iran:  fully committed to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.  This position is not as disappointing as his Israeli stance, but it still is troubling.  The fact that he is “fully committed” suggests that Hagel would not oppose going to war with the Persian nation, an undesirable outcome.  Besides, with Israel’s possession of nuclear weapons—while not confirmed, this fact is one of the worst kept secrets in the world—Iran’s acquisition of a nuclear weapon could in fact stabilize the region.  This policy of mutually assured destruction prevented the Soviet Union and the United States from attacking each other during the Cold War and is again in play between India and Pakistan.
            Hagel’s stance on terrorist groups in Yemen, Somalia, and North Africa:  continuing pressure via Special Forces operations and drone strikes.  These drone strikes are particularly irksome due to their very ambiguous legality.  The “targeted assassinations,” which such actions equate to, have never been determined as a legal act by any international organization.  This position also further commits the United States to acting as an international police force, stepping all over the sovereignty of other nations.
            Hagel’s stance on the Afghanistan War:  agrees with President Obama on drawing out troops by 2014 and leaving just a small number of soldiers to hunt down al Qaeda and train Afghan soldiers.  This position is not bad, although a complete withdraw would be preferable. 
            When examined in a vacuum, Hagel’s stances on these various issues is not troubling in and of themselves, but stepping out of the vacuum reveals the issue.  These stances are virtual carbon copies of Panetta’s positions.  As the New York Times reported,  “Mr. Hagel's statement frequently echoed the policies of the departing defense secretary, Leon E. Panetta, and at several points used identical phrasing.” Not only does Hagel agree universally with Panetta, but his positions are also identical with President Obama’s.
            Now obviously a president is not going to appoint a Cabinet official who disagrees with him on every issue, but the fact that Obama has now appointed two consecutive Defense Secretaries who are virtual clones of his positions almost renders the Cabinet post redundant.  It is almost universally accepted that a good leader will surround him or herself with people who can provide differing stances on issues so that the leader can hear multiple views on a problem in order to make a more informed decision. 
            The fact that Obama has ignored with principle highlights the main problem with his administration:  his poor leadership skills.  The fact that every economic issue gets drawn out to the last second is obviously influenced by partisan politics, but divided government is pretty much a constant in American politics, and yet previous presidents have been able to work with the opposition party to reach deals.  The undeniable reality that Obama has failed to work with Republicans leads one to believe that his enduring legacy will simply be that he is the first black president.
            His second term could change this, but Hagel’s appointment and the embarrassing “fiscal cliff” debacle make this seem unlikely.  President Obama’s ego and his mentality that his way is the correct way will threaten America for the next four years more than anything else, and potentially create a disastrous precedent for future presidents; although such a precedent is unlikely due to fact that Obama’s leadership methods are more likely to cause history to label him a failure than a success.

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