Nearly two years ago, these writers urged President Obama to “Chuck Hagel.” Today, it seems, the hapless Secretary of Defense is on his way out. We wish him no ill. And we certainly don’t rejoice in his forced resignation. The timing of his dismissal could hardly be worse. It comes on the eve of another “deadline” in our dealings with an Iran bent on acquiring nuclear weapons.
Secretary Hagel never overcame his stumbling debut. A recent poll of national security personnel gave him an abysmal 26 percent approval rating. And while we should never put civilian control of the military up for a vote of the troops, we should try to avoid naming defense chiefs who command so little respect among those whom they can order to risk their lives.
Secretary Hagel needed to go. His tenure has been characterized by ineptitude of the first order. According to the New York Times, Mr. Hagel never recovered from his bruising confirmation hearings. He responded at length to a senator’s questioning that he saw the need to “contain” Iran’s nuclear capacity.
The containment doctrine, after all, was the dominant idea of the U.S. from 1949 with the announcement of the USSR’s first atomic bomb test until 1981, with the advent of the Reagan administration. Reagan was committed not merely to containing the USSR, but to prevailing over the evil empire. He set in train the powerful forces that helped to unravel the Soviet bloc and bring down that tyrannical regime — and he did this without war.
When Secretary-designate Hagel expanded on his views of “containing” the Iranian nuclear threat, he had to be nudged by one of his Obama administration handlers. A quickly whispered conference ensued. And then Hagel took it all back. We are not in favor of containing Iran’s nuclear capability, he quickly and clumsily amended his sworn testimony.
Hagel then proceeded to recite the Obama administration’s official position: We are opposed to Iran’s achieving a nuclear breakout. Iran must not have a nuclear weapon, President Obama has stated again and again. This position has been restated by Secretary of State John Kerry and by all other administration spokespersons.
We could only imagine the reaction of our NATO partners to the sight of an obviously flummoxed senior member of their club. No European or Canadian Defense Minister could have survived such a disastrous public pratfall. To have to make a one hundred eighty degree turnabout on the central defense issue of our time, in the full glare of television lights, would instantly disqualify any of those parliamentarians from high office. And not one of those ministers has the weight of responsibility for military matters that our defense secretary has.
But this was all to be expected from a president who came to office promising to turn over a new leaf in relations with Iran. He approached the mullahs of Tehran “with an open hand not a clenched fist.” During the 2008 campaign, he even clashed with Hillary Clinton over Iran. Hillary was unwilling to deal with Iran’s mullahs “without preconditions.” Sen. Barack Obama took the unusual, not to mention profoundly unserious, position that he could sweep away thirty years of hostility with a handshake.
We need to understand what President Obama’s extended hand meant. We would “re-set” relations with Iran while they still held our embassy compound. Under international law. that compound is sovereign U.S. territory. They attacked, overran, and have occupied our embassy for thirty years. They kidnapped and held hostage 52 Americans and subjected them to beatings, torture, and mock executions for 444 days.
Then they murdered 241 U.S. Marines and Navy corpsmen in Beirut, Lebanon in 1983. There is little doubt that Hezbollah — the terrorist gang that perpetrated that bombing — operates under the direction of the mullahs ruling in Tehran.
Sweeping aside all of this and despite the fact that the U.S. State Department lists Iran as the Number One state sponsor of terrorism, President Obama was elected with a pledge to approach Iran’s rulers with an open hand.
They treated his open hand with scorn. Now, we are in protracted negotiations with Iran’s regime over their nuclear program. We are about to give them yet another “extension,” kicking the can further down the road, and permitting them to approach the point of “breakout,” a status achieved when a nation can rapidly move from nuclear research to creation of a bomb. Left unaddressed in these negotiations is Iran’s work on intercontinental ballistic missiles, needed for the delivery of nuclear weapons.
Reagan succeeded with the Soviets because he was not blind to the nature of the regime he was dealing with in the Kremlin. President Obama seems to have dismissed the nature of the mullahs’ murderous regime as a factor to be considered. These are the men who sent thousands of ten year-old boys marching through Saddam Hussein’s minefields during a decade-long war with Iraq in the 1980s. They gave these little boys plastic keys around their necks, promising the innocent lads the keys would open the gates of paradise before them.
What good can come of these negotiations with such homicidal men who disregard the most vulnerable of their own people? What is needed in Iran is what Reagan sought with the Soviets — peace through strength.
Secretary Hagel’s most notable achievement was to assure us all that a radically reduced U.S. military was all that we could afford and we had to get used to not being the world’s leading military power. Americans have never accepted that dangerous idea. Sec. Hagel will not be missed.