I have already pointed out how President Barack Obama's decision to replace Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel differs from the superficially similar decision by President George W. Bush to replace Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in 2006: Bush coupled the personnel shift with a thoroughgoing self-assessment and a resulting strategic shift. Bush's move was not just a change in personalities but a change in direction. (Bush also made other crucial personnel changes, most notably selecting General David Petraeus to lead the Iraq war effort, whereas the Obama administration has gone to some lengths to emphasize that there will be no other personnel changes on the national security team.)
A new report by the German Marshall Fund and the Swedish Defense Research Agency argues that the United States and Europe should adopt a fresh approach to Pakistan as the decade-plus conflict in Afghanistan winds down. We now need a policy that focuses squarely on Pakistan rather than one in which that pivotal country is treated as an adjunct of a policy towards Afghanistan. As Western forces depart the region, violent extremism engulfs the Middle East, China and India assert their growing regional influence, and Pakistan's internal instabilities mount, a new situation in the region requires a new approach.
As a supporter of President George W. Bush's decisions to invade Afghanistan and Iraq and the surge, I did not welcome Chuck Hagel as President Obama's choice for secretary of defense. But the president has a right to choose whom he wants, and it was obvious that Hagel had been chosen because he and Obama shared views and had built up a cordial relationship from their days in the Senate. The primary criteria by which Hagel was chosen was that he would support both the downsizing of the military and the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Peter Feaver is right when he says that Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel's performance would not make the top 10 list of national security woes plaguing this administration. In the "don't do stupid stuff" category, he is a star player compared with the rest of the national security team. And viewed from Asia, particularly our allies, his departure will cause as much angst as head-scratching. A frequent refrain from allied officials in the region these days is something along the lines of, "Well, at least we can work with the Pentagon for the next two years since they actually want to get things done."
"Scapegoat," the term Peter Feaver employed in reacting to the firing of Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, actually was a goat that the Bible tells us carried the sins of the Israelites with it as it was sent off to meet its death in the desert. And scapegoat is the perfect simile for this decent man who never had a chance in the dysfunctional Obama administration. His performance at his confirmation hearings notwithstanding, Hagel performed creditably as secretary, despite the fact that, like Jim Jones, he was shut out of the president's inner circle from his very first day in office.