- The Washington Times - Friday, December 18, 2015

Former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel blasted President Obama Friday in a new interview for ordering the Pentagon to stand down just as they were about to pull the trigger on a missile attack on Damascus. 

After it was revealed that Syrian President Bashar Assad used chemical weapons in his country’s civil war in 2013 and after Mr. Obama’s promise of a U.S. military retaliation, the Pentagon made plans to launch a full-scale attack on the capital city with Tomahawk cruise missiles fired from naval destroyers in the Mediterranean. 

But when U.S. Navy commanders were ready with their fingers on “fire” buttons, Mr. Obama told them to stand down, Mr. Hagel told Foreign Policy magazine. 

“Whether it was the right decision or not, history will determine that,” Mr. Hagel said. 

“There’s no question in my mind that it hurt the credibility of the president’s word when this occurred,” he added. 

Mr. Hagel’s counterparts around the world reportedly told him Mr. Obama’s sudden about-face had shaken their confidence in Washington. He said he still hears complaints from foreign leaders to this day. 

“A president’s word is a big thing, and when the president says things, that’s a big deal,” he told Foreign Policy magazine. 

The White House declined to comment for the Foreign Policy magazine story, but a senior administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the president was not ready to go forward with the military operation in 2013 without consulting Congress first and gaining their endorsement. 

In the interview, Mr. Hagel said the White House tried to “destroy” his reputation as he was preparing to leave office in 2014. 

He said he could not understand why unnamed White House aides planted stories about why the president demanded his resignation. 

“They already had my resignation, so what was the point of just continuing to try to destroy me?” Mr. Hagel asked. 

“I don’t know what the purpose was. To this day, I’m still mystified by that. But I move forward. I’m proud of my service,” he added, saying he would have “preferred that my days as defense secretary not end that way.” 

In November 2014, as Mr. Hagel’s resignation was announced, The New York Times reported that “Aides said Mr. Obama made the decision to remove his defense secretary on Friday after weeks of rising tension over a variety of issues, the military prison in Guantanamo Bay and a dispute with Susan E. Rice, the national security adviser, over Syria policy.”

At the time that his departure was announced, Mr. Hagel took the high road and told The Associated Press that he had “no major differences” with the president, and that there was no single reason for his resignation.

Asked directly whether he felt he was pressured to resign today, Mr. Hagel was not specific. He called it a “mutual decision” with Mr. Obama based on one-on-one talks at the White House.

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