‘By the way, go to hell’: Former Obama defense secretaries tell how they coped

Special to WorldTribune.com

Three former defense secretaries were blunt in their criticism of President Barack Obama and his “inexperienced advisers” for their distrust, micromanaging and second guessing of senior military commanders.

A report by Fox News anchor Bret Baier revealed that low-level White House staffers went so far as to place phone calls to the battlefield.

Former defense secretaries, from left, Leon Panetta, Chuck Hagel and Robert Gates. /DoD Photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo
Former defense secretaries, from left, Leon Panetta, Chuck Hagel and Robert Gates. /DoD Photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo

“When I was Deputy National Security Advisor (in the George W. Bush administration), if I would have tried to, even as deputy, if I had tried to call a field commander, going around Dick Cheney who was Secretary of Defense or Colin Powell who was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, I’d have had my head handed to me, probably personally by the president,” ex-Defense Secretary Robert Gates said.

“I told the combatant commanders and the field commanders, ‘If you get calls from the White House staff, if you get a call from the president that’s one thing, that’s totally okay, that’s the chain of command, but you get a call from some White House or National Security Council staffer, you tell them to call me instead and then tell them, oh by the way, go to hell and that’s directly from the secretary of defense.’ ”

Chuck Hagel, who also served as defense secretary under Obama, said the president “has a staff around him that is very inexperienced. I don’t think there’s one veteran on his senior staff at the White House. I don’t believe there’s one business person. I don’t believe there is one person who’s ever run anything.

“Other than Vice President Biden, none of them have ever been elected to anything. I think he’s got to fundamentally understand and I’m not sure he ever did nor people around him, the tremendous responsibility the United States has. Not to be the world’s policemen, but to lead and we’re the only ones who can. The world becomes more dangerous, not less dangerous, when America gets less involved in the world. I don’t mean invading and occupying and imposing, but leading.”

Another former Obama defense chief, Leon Panetta, said “I think what I’ve seen in these last four years is almost this cautiousness and over correction which makes it appear that the United States is hesitant to take action and that sends, I think, a message of weakness.”

Gates said “it was the operational micromanagement that drove me nuts,” adding that White House and NSC (National Security Council) staffers were “calling senior commanders out in the field and asking them questions, second guessing commanders.”

That second guessing has had severe consequences, analysts say, as 70 percent of U.S. troop casualties in Afghanistan have occurred on Obama’s watch.

“As if inexperienced White House advisers micromanaging the battlefield wasn’t bad enough, late last year we learned from an exclusive in the Daily Beast intelligence reports were being scrubbed to fit the political narrative that terrorism around the world, including ISIL, was shrinking,” Katie Pavlich wrote at Townhall.com.

“More than 50 intelligence analysts working out of the U.S. military’s Central Command have formally complained that their reports on ISIL and Al Qaida’s branch in Syria were being inappropriately altered by senior officials,” The Daily Beast reported.

“Two senior analysts at CENTCOM signed a written complaint sent to the Defense Department inspector general in July alleging that the reports, some of which were briefed to President Obama, portrayed the terror groups as weaker than the analysts believe they are. The reports were changed by CENTCOM higher-ups to adhere to the administration’s public line that the U.S. is winning the battle against (ISIL and Nusra Front), the analysts claim.”