In a Fox News program on military readiness in the face of growing threats, all three of President Barack Obama’s former secretaries of defense confirmed the National Security Council is essentially drunk on power and running wars from an office building.
Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, a holdover from George W. Bush’s administration, told host Bret Baier it was the White House’s stifling leadership that chafed national security experts.
“It was the operation micromanagement that drove me nuts, of White House and NSC staffers calling senior commanders out in the field and asking them questions second-guessing those commanders,” Gates said.
Gates recounted the vast differences between the way George W. Bush handled the NSC and the type of leeway Obama gave inexperienced, junior staffers to boss around experienced military officials.
“When I was National Security Adviser, and even as deputy, if I had tried going around to Dick Cheney or Colin Powell, I’d have had my head personally handed to me by the president,” Gates said.
Gates instructed field commanders who received direct calls from NSC staffers to tell them to “go to hell” and to add that message came straight from him. Gates in particular has recently talked Obama double-crossing him.
For Leon Panetta, Obama’s second secretary of defense, instead of providing hard, heavy-hitting advice, staffers chose to pander and shape their message to please the president.
“Staff people try to read ‘what does the president want’ and then try to influence that through the back door of policy,” Panetta said. “What that does is undermine the very process that a president needs in order to get the best information possible to be able to make the right decisions.”
The inordinate amount of influence the NSC has wielded over the past four years has shaped U.S. foreign policy in a decidedly negative way, Panetta said.
“What I’ve seen in these 4 years is this cautiousness and over-correction, which makes it appear that the U.S. is hesitant to take action, and that sends a message of weakness,” he said.
Chuck Hagel, the third secretary of defense, who resigned over extreme pressure to shut down Guantanamo Bay, said the problem with the NSC is that it’s completely bereft of experts with military or practical experience in the real world.
“I don’t think there’s one veteran on Obama’s staff at the White House,” Hagel told Baier. “I don’t think there is one businessperson, and I don’t believe there is one person who has ever run anything, and other than Vice President Biden, none of them have been elected to anything. You have to leaven the loaf with experience, and this has not happened.”
The NSC continues to centralize foreign policy power in spite of all criticism. The most recent case has been a gag order placed on Navy officials, who are eager to launch extensive freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea.
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