Chuck Hagel on Sunday joined the list of former Defense Secretaries who have clashed with President Barack Obama on Mideast policy, the war against ISIS and “micromanagement” of the military.
Echoing former Defense Secretaries Leon Panetta and Robert Gates, Hagel said he had difficulty getting his advice through to the White House and pointed to a “secret memo” he sent just before offering his resignation in late 2014.
On CNN’s “State of the Union” program, Hagel said the administration had been too focused on getting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad out of office and should turn its attention more to the fight against ISIS.
“Well, Assad is a very bad guy,” Hagel said. “There are bad guys all over the world, but I think it’s pretty clear that ISIS represents the real threat to our country, to the world. Assad has to be dealt with, but you can’t confuse your allies and your adversaries by saying Assad must go.”
In late 2014, Hagel offered his resignation, and Obama accepted. Then-Deputy White House Press Secretary Eric Schultz later said at the time there had been “friction” between Hagel and the White House on a range of issues.
Hagel made his latest remarks as reports emerged alleging that Centcom was doctoring intelligence to show progress against ISIS and Obama urged Americans and nations worldwide not to succumb to fear in the aftermath of the Paris terror attacks claimed by ISIS that killed at least 129 people.
“We do not succumb to fear,” he said during a news conference in Malaysia closing out the final leg of his nine-day, three-nation trip overseas. “The most powerful tool we have to fight ISIL (another acronym for ISIS) is to say that we’re not afraid.”
Obama called on Americans not to elevate ISIS “and to somehow buy into their fantasy that they’re doing something important.”