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Ex-Defense Chief Hagel: White House Tried to 'Destroy Me'

Ex-Defense Chief Hagel: White House Tried to 'Destroy Me'

Friday, 18 December 2015 03:51 PM

President Obama's former defense secretary Chuck Hagel said he was subjected to backstabbing by those in the White House who sought to tarnish his reputation, even after he agreed to resign.

"They already had my resignation, so what was the point of just continuing to try to destroy me?" Hagel said in an interview with Foreign Policy magazine published on Friday.

Hagel also said he was admonished for describing the Islamic State group as "beyond anything we've ever seen" after the jihadists rampaged through large parts of Syria and Iraq last year.

"I got accused of trying to hype something, overstate something, and make something more than it was," Hagel told Foreign Policy.

"I didn't know all of it, but I knew we were up against something here that we had never seen before. And in many ways, we were not prepared for it."

President Obama lost international credibility when he decided against attacking Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in 2013, the former defense chief said in a damning appraisal of his former boss.


In his first lengthy public remarks since being forced from the top Pentagon position in February, Hagel aired a series of gripes against Obama, including that leaders around the world lost confidence in the president after he backed down from attacking Assad.

In August 2013, Obama said publicly that Assad's use of chemical weapons would be a "red line."

Many of Hagel’s attacks were aimed at National Security Adviser Susan Rice, though he did not name her specifically in the Foreign Policy interview. Former aides told the magazine that Hagel regularly clashed with Rice over Syria and the U.S. prison at Guant√°namo Bay, Cuba.

After the Syrian leader used the weapons against his own people anyway, Hagel finalized plans to launch cruise missiles against the Damascus regime.

But the order to attack never came -- lawmakers did not support the action.

"Whether it was the right decision or not, history will determine that," Hagel said.

"There's no question in my mind that it hurt the credibility of the president's word when this occurred."

Hagel said the episode underscores the White House's struggles on what to do in war-torn Syria.

Officials would hold lengthy meetings on the subject that would often end with no decisions being made, he said.

"For one thing, there were way too many meetings,” Hagel said. “The meetings were not productive.

"I don’t think many times we ever actually got to where we needed to be," he added. "We kept kind of deferring the tough decisions. And there were always too many people in the room."

Hagel said that many times he was able to meet with Obama, but oftentimes not privately.

“There were times that I had called over and asked to have a private meeting with the president, and when I showed up, there were others in the room,” he said.

A senior Obama administration official told Foreign Policy that the president did not want to carry out a military operation without first getting congressional approval.

Obama eventually pulled together a coalition that in August 2014 began carrying out air strikes against the IS group. The effort continues today, though Obama has pledged to intensify the raids and is increasing numbers of special operations forces on the ground.

Hagel also said the White House routinely meddled in Pentagon matters. His immediate predecessors, Leon Panetta and Robert Gates, have also been critical of White House micromanagement.

Hagel's successor is Ashton Carter, Obama's fourth defense secretary.

© AFP 2019

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Barack Obama lost international credibility when he decided against attacking Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in 2013, former US defense chief Chuck Hagel said in a damning appraisal of his former boss.
US, politics, military, Syria, conflict
Friday, 18 December 2015 03:51 PM
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