Chuck Hagel’s ignored achievements

This is the second in a series on Chuck Hagel’s resignation as the secretary of defense. Click here to read the first part on how his resignation will impact the U.S.’s presence in the Middle East. 

Chuck Hagel, who has been forced to resign by President Barack Obama as secretary of defense, was no defeatist, pacifist or lah-de-dah, naïve idiot always ready to hate and condemn his own country.

He defined himself clearly as a Colin Powell-style strategist and patriot, determined to maintain America as the world’s foremost military power, but to do so responsibly and with restraint.

And that’s why he has just been forced out of arguably the most powerful executive job in government, with the usual pack of media hyenas sneering and snapping at his heels.

Hagel was never hungry for power or craving to be drunk with it. Neocons and liberal imperialists alike were anathema to him.

Back in 2002, Hagel defied his own party and president (George W. Bush) over the 2003 Iraq War. He was adamant that the United States could not impose its lasting will and political solution on Iraq. His voice proved wise and prescient.

It was inevitable that with such views, Hagel should be isolated and sneered at in Imperial Washington with its absurd and ultimately fatal pretensions.

He was hysterically accused of antisemitism before he took office, but military-to-military relations with Israel flourished on his watch. He impressed the Jewish audiences he addressed, with his warmth and decency.

Liberal extremists and “reform” fantasists foamed at the mouth because he did not scrap virtually the entire military budget, but he sought retrenchment, not defenselessness, and he refused to endanger the country’s security.

Hagel wasn’t the inept failure and weak, lackadaisical manager he is now being made out to be. He was a fine secretary of defense in the tradition of his two predecessors under Obama, Robert Gates and Leon Panetta.

He energetically and successfully championed the U.S. pivot to Asia and did so skillfully in ways that minimized potential conflict with China while encouraging and empowering America’s allies. On his watch, U.S. influence in the world’s most populous, largest and most economically dynamic continent grew strikingly.

In Afghanistan and Iraq, Hagel loyally implemented the drawing down of U.S. military forces and bore the brunt of criticism for the inevitable collapse of the ramshackle political arrangements and certain-to-fail grand strategy that George W. Bush, the most stupid and inept president since Herbert Hoover, had imposed on both countries.

Hagel tried to give the dangerously exhausted and overstretched U.S. Army the breathing space it desperately needed to rebuild and catch its breath after its 13 years of endless, enervating combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, Bush II’s trillion dollar (each) fiascoes that Obama had failed to act resolutely to end earlier.

In the end, it was not his long and honorable service as a Republican senator from Nebraska that defined Chuck Hagel, but his formative experience as a combat U.S. Army soldier in the Vietnam War, where he served as a sergeant. He was the first enlisted man to serve as U.S. secretary of defense, and he was proud of it.

Hagel’s departure was principled and honorable, worthy of the brave soldier he always was.

It will prove fortuitous for him and for his long-term reputation.

He will be spared any blame for the next bungled metastasizing of war in the Middle East and its ballooning casualty figures.

Yet he did not jump ship and he is absolved of any allegation that he sought to shirk his responsibility.

Hagel deserves to be remembered as a good and decent man who served his country loyally and well to the very end.

His experience and wisdom will be sorely missed, most of all by the president who so rashly and unwisely fired him.