I Pity the Fool Who Becomes the Next Secretary of Defense

More evidence–as though any were needed–that while Chuck Hagel is leaving the Pentagon, bad governance practices designed and implemented by the Obama White House will remain. And those practices have been around for a while:

On a trip to Afghanistan during President Barack Obama’s first term, Defense Secretary Robert Gates was stunned to find a telephone line at the military’s special operations headquarters that linked directly back to a top White House national security official.

“I had them tear it out while I was standing there,” Gates said earlier this month as he recounted his discovery. “I told the commanders, `If you get a call from the White House, you tell them to go to hell and call me.'”

To Gates, the phone in Kabul came to symbolize Obama’s efforts to micromanage the Pentagon and centralize decision-making in the White House. That criticism later would be echoed publicly and pointedly by Gates’ successor, Leon Panetta.

The president’s third Pentagon chief, Chuck Hagel, was picked partly because he was thought to be more deferential to Obama’s close circle of White House advisers. But over time, Hagel also grew frustrated with what he saw as the West Wing’s insularity.

There have been similar gripes from other Cabinet officials, but the friction between the White House and the Pentagon has been particularly pronounced during Obama’s six years in office. That dynamic already appears to be affecting the president’s ability to find a replacement for Hagel, who resigned Monday under pressure from Obama.

Within hours, former Pentagon official Michele Flournoy called Obama to take herself out of consideration, even though she was widely seen as his top choice and would have been the first woman to hold the post.

Flournoy officially cited family concerns, but people close to her say she also had reservations about being restrained like Hagel and would perhaps wait to see if she could get the job if another Democrat – namely Hillary Rodham Clinton – won the presidency in 2016.

The story goes on to note that “the president’s approach to the military seems particularly cool and detached when compared with that of his predecessor, Republican George W. Bush, who was more eager to embrace the military and accept its judgments.” Recall that during the Bush administration, there were criticisms that President Bush did not listen enough to the generals. Turns out that he did, and that President Obama should be the one faulted for not taking the advice of the military more often. There is also this:

Stephen Biddle, an occasional adviser to U.S. combat commanders, said the White House has fallen victim to “group think” and is distrustful of advice or perspectives that challenge its own.

“That’s a bad policy development design,” said Biddle, a political science professor at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs.

Remember how epistemic closure supposedly only affects Republicans? Boy, that claim sure turned out to be a laugh and a half, didn’t it?

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