Kristol Floats ‘Plausible Rumor’ That Hagel Will Replace Gates, Calls Him ‘An Advocate Of Retreat Everywhere’

Yesterday, Foreign Policy Initiative co-founder Bill Kristol appeared on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show, where he said that he now believes “for the first time that he will not accept General McChrystal’s recommendation in Afghanistan.” “I really worry now about the next few years to a degree and in a way that I really hadn’t before,” said Kristol.

When Hewitt asked him if a resignation by one of Obama’s top foreign policy advisers “would mobilize public opinion” against Obama’s decisions, Kristol said “it would help.” He added that he had “just heard this morning from someone who’s been in touch with people in the administration, a foreign gentleman who deals with this government, that people are talking about Secretary Gates leaving at the end of the year, and being replaced by Chuck Hagel.” Hewitt and Kristol then took the opportunity to attack Hagel:

KRISTOL: People are talking about Secretary Gates leaving at the end of the year, and being replaced by Chuck Hagel…


KRISTOL: Yeah, exactly, as Secretary of Defense. I think that’s quite a plausible rumor, and a very worrisome one, because he is an advocate of retreat everywhere, I think.

HEWITT: Yeah, it’s sort of neoisolationism replacing neoconservatism as the driving intellectual force behind the intellectuals on either side.

Kristol is typically off-base when he describes Hagel as “an advocate of retreat everywhere.” Instead, Hagel is simply in favor of smarter engagement with the world. As he wrote in the Washington Post earlier this month, “global collaboration does not mean retreating from our standards, values or sovereignty”:

Development of seamless networks of intelligence gathering and sharing, and strengthening alliances, diplomatic cooperation, trade and development can make the biggest long-term difference and have the most lasting impact on building a more stable and secure world. There really are people and organizations committed to destroying America, and we need an agile, flexible and strong military to face these threats. How, when and where we use force are as important as the decision to use it. Relying on the use of force as a centerpiece of our global strategy, as we have in recent years, is economically, strategically and politically unsustainable and will result in unnecessary tragedy — especially for the men and women, and their families, who serve our country.

Indeed, Kristol has long been antithetical towards Hagel’s concern with thinking through the potential negative consequences of military engagement. Before the Iraq war — which Hagel supported before becoming an aggressive critic — Hagel wanted to know, “What comes after a military invasion? Who rules Iraq? Does the United States really want to be in Baghdad, trying to police Baghdad for twenty or thirty years?” Kristol dismissed Hagel with the assertion that “predictions of ethnic turmoil in Iraq are even more questionable than they were in the case of Afghanistan.” Kristol was wrong.


Perhaps, Kristol is lashing out because Hagel has so publicly chastised the foreign policy vision that Kristol supports. In his book, America: Our Next Chapter, Hagel wrote: “So why did we invade Iraq? I believe it was the triumph of the so-called neo-conservative ideology, as well as Bush administration arrogance and incompetence that took America into this war of choice … They obviously made a convincing case to a president with very limited national security and foreign policy experience, who keenly felt the burden of leading the nation in the wake of the deadliest terrorist attack ever on American soil.”