A good indication of poor presidential policymaking performance is how frequently leading officials, such as Cabinet secretaries, stay in their jobs. In the case of Barack Obama’s Secretary of Defense, he is now about to begin his 4th Pentagon chief in less than six years, when Ashton Carter is expected to be nominated. Carter has extensive national security experience and bipartisan respect, but why would anyone want to be Barack Obama’s Secretary of Defense?
Let’s start with the basics. Obama hates the military and the traditional moral values the military has stood for until the advent of the Obama Administration. Obama has the dangerously naive belief that America is not a force for good in the world and that we have committed multiple transgressions against his secularist utopian vision of world order. Obama has used the military for fairly limited operational purposes, but has placed excessive emphasis on drone attacks and social engineering instead of getting involved in the brass knuckles nitty gritty of understanding national security policymaking and the unremitting Hobbesian reality of today’s international security environment. Obama also labors under the delusion that other world leaders share his idealistic fantasies when the behavior of Vladimir Putin, multiple Islamist terrorists, Iran, North Korea, and China demonstrates the opposite.
Obama’s first Secretary of Defense Robert Gates served as George W. Bush’s Secretary of Defense during the last two years of his administration. Gates is a traditionalist Republican who stabilized the Pentagon and military after the tumultuous tenure of Donald Rumsfeld. Gates continued serving under Obama but felt increasingly frustrated by the White House micromanagement of national security policymaking and its refusal to adhere to professional military advice about crisis areas such as Afghanistan and Iraq. Gates has already penned a memoir of his frustration with Obama and his sycophants.
The next Secretary of Defense was long-time Democratic luminary Leon Panetta. Despite overseeing the successful raid which killed Osama bin Laden, he encountered similar frustrations with the Obama White House and also penned a memoir detailing his frustrations with Mr. “Change you can believe in.”
Former Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel, once a nominal Republican who broke with President Bush and his party over Iraq, succeeded Panetta in early 2013. Hagel’s ideological apostasy earned him a larger number of no confirmation debate votes than any previously confirmed Secretary of Defense. Hagel encountered the same problems dealing with Obama’s White House and National Security Council as Gates and Panetta. Some media reports maintain Hagel was silent at National Security Council meetings because he was so frustrated with his lack of authority. Be sure to check your favorite print or online book retailer in another year to see if Hagel writes a memoir of his Pentagon experience.
Being Secretary of Defense is a very serious responsibility. The individual in this position must be able to effectively manage the Pentagon’s gargantuan bureaucracy and institutional cultures, have the respect of armed services members from privates and ensigns to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have constructive relationships with the defense industry, work effectively with and be respected by allied militaries, and have the credibility to defend the military when dealing with congressional oversight committees and appropriators. The Secretary of Defense must also have the confidence that he or she will receive the President’s unflinching support on every occasion when dealing with these diverse constituencies. Sadly, this has not been the case during the Obama Administation. Barack Obama has inflicted serious and enduring damage on our military, its credibility, and on our national security interests. There is no reason to expect this will change if Ashton Carter becomes Secretary of Defense. Hopefully, the soon to be Republican controlled Congress can begin incremental steps for rectify this. However, it will take the election of a forceful and decisive conservative Republican as President in 2016 to begin restoring our military as a first rate fighting force that will reinstill fear, instead of ridicule, into our enemies.