Are Pentagon decisions being made “within a small group in the White House”?
There is no love lost between John McCain and me. I don’t often agree with him. In fact, I often strongly disagree with him—both on domestic policy and especially on foreign policy. But that doesn’t mean he is always wrong or always inaccurate in his perceptions. He may be absurd in claiming that we can support “rebels” against Bashar al Assad in Syria without funding al Qaeda-related terrorists, but he still can sometimes get it right.
So what are we to think of his comment on how Pentagon decisions are made.
McCain made his statement (of all places!) on the Colbert Report TV show. He was talking about the resignation of Chuck Hagel. McCain had a pretty low opinion of Chuck Hagel and refused to vote for his confirmation. In his interview with Colbert he was, from what is reported by the Daily Caller, criticizing the Obama Administration’s choice in nominating him.
Appearing on the “Colbert Report” Monday night, Sen. John McCain discussed the resignation of Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, telling host Stephen Colbert the former Nebraska senator “wasn’t the right guy for the job.”
But then he said something else which seems far worse than claiming that the White House had nominated the wrong person. He implied that it never really mattered who Barack Obama nominated because they would have no real power.
“Let’s talk about you and the angry old man, Chuck Hagel, who just got tossed out the door by Obama. You voted against Hagel’s confirmation. … Are you glad he’s out?” asked an in-character Stephen Colbert.
“I think that Chuck — and by the way he is a friend and a distinguished American. He fought as an enlisted man in the Vietnam War and I honor that,” said the Arizona Republican. “But he wasn’t the right guy for the job. It’s pretty obvious that all of the decisions are being made within a small group in the White House.”
So, taking what Senator McCain said at face value, it almost couldn’t matter who the White House nominated as the Secretary of Defense. While that office is the public face of the Pentagon, the fact remains that policy is being crafted by other people.
If true, this means we really don’t know who is making the major Pentagon decisions. It is all a big mystery.
Furthermore, it means that the person or persons really responsible for whatever is going wrong with the military has little to do with Chuck Hagel. By definition, if another group is making the major decisions, then Hagel’s forced resignation is simply an act of scapegoating on the part of the Administration.
While McCain can be wrong, he has also publicly sided with the Obama Administration. There is no reason to insist that he is only motivated by partisanship in this observation.
If the Pentagon decision makers do not include Chuck Hagel, then we have no way of really understanding Pentagon actions. Who are we supposed to ask in order to get an explanation? No one can know. If the Secretary of Defense is not the person to tell us the reasons for Pentagon policy, then we have another case of a lack of transparency in this Presidency.