Dumping cabinet members after poor midterm elections is a time-honored tradition among U.S. presidents, and President Obama is following suit three weeks after a trouncing by the GOP. Wouldn’t you know, it’s the only Republican he had around. From the New York Times, which broke the story:
“Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is stepping down under pressure, the first cabinet-level casualty of the collapse of President Obama’s Democratic majority in the Senate and a beleaguered national security team that has struggled to stay ahead of an onslaught of global crises. …
“(Senior administration) officials described Mr. Obama’s decision to remove Mr. Hagel, 68, as a recognition that the threat from the Islamic State would require a different kind of skills than those that Mr. Hagel was brought on to employ. A Republican with military experience who was skeptical about the Iraq war, Mr. Hagel came in to manage the Afghanistan combat withdrawal and the shrinking Pentagon budget in the era of budget sequestration.
“But now ‘the next couple of years will demand a different kind of focus,’ one administration official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.”
The story goes on to say the decision was mutual, not a firing by Obama, but that’s parsing the wrong issue here. The real issue is that the president chose a defense secretary during a time of war who apparently was not well-suited to run, you know, a war.
And that gets to a broader problem with this administration: its stubborn, incorrect insistence that “the tide of war is receding.” That’s what Americans want, but the rest of the world isn’t cooperating.
The specific reference to ISIS is instructive. This time last year, our president thought ISIS was “a JV team.” Now he’s parting ways with a defense secretary who apparently isn’t even on that level. A presidential promise not to put “boots on the ground” in our return to Iraq is looking shakier all the time. We have now gone from ruling out “ground troops” to ruling out “combat troops,” which itself is a meaningless claim when our warplanes are already at combat there. And the president is also changing course in Afghanistan, albeit without the kind of ballyhooed speech that has typically announced his intention to disengage from that country.
The single biggest fault of Barack Obama is that he approaches the world as he prefers it to be rather than the way it is, from the not-so “shovel ready” projects featured in the stimulus to the immigration executive order he once recognized as unconstitutional. It’s one thing to have a vision; it’s quite another to be blind.
If replacing Hagel is a sign Obama is seeing reality in at least one respect, however belatedly, then good for him.