President Obama is going to have great difficulty recruiting the best people to serve in his Cabinet on matters of national security because a) most of the best qualified people in the national security field disagree with many current policies and b) few of the best qualified national security leaders will want to put up with the backstabbing and interference from the White House staff that has offended all three of Obama's secretaries of Defense.


As I wrote in my column this week, it is extraordinary and troubling that so many high-level and internationally respected members of the president's team have left under circumstances where they had strong disagreements with some important policies they had to execute and were deeply offended by the backbiting and at times insults they endured from some officials on the White House staff. I would add that not only has Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, repeatedly suggested he might recommend ground reinforcements to the current air campaign in Iraq and Syria, but many active duty and senior retired military leaders have grave misgivings about the current policy.

It is not surprising that former Defense Department official Michèle Flournoy and Sen. Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis ReedData shows seven Senate Democrats have majority non-white staffs Sunday shows - FDA commissioner declines to confirm Trump claim that 99 percent of COVID-19 cases are 'harmless' Senate Democrat: Russian bounties intel 'the type of information that has to be seized by the president' MORE (D-R.I.), two of the three leading names on the list to succeed Chuck HagelCharles (Chuck) Timothy HagelThe Hill's Campaign Report: Democratic Unity Taskforce unveils party platform recommendations Hundreds of West Point alumni call out Esper over military's role in protests Can he really do that? Yes, he probably can — because Congress let him MORE as secretary of Defense, almost immediately withdrew their names from contention. Obama will ultimately find a replacement for Hagel, possibly Ashton Carter, the third name on the original candidate list and a well-regarded former Defense Department official.

Great damage has been done, however, and has created for Obama a major war Cabinet problem. It is ludicrous and wrong that with the problems surrounding the policies aimed to defeat the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terrorists, and with the drubbing that Obama and the Democrats took in the midterm elections, that the only high-level official to pay any price has been Hagel, who did not deserve it, and who in fact is right about many of the controversial issues.

Those who compare the removal of Secretary Hagel to the removal of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld by President George W. Bush are not only wrong, they have it backwards. Bush 43 removed Rumsfeld to change his policy, which was wise, and to reduce the influence of those such as Rumsfeld and Vice President Cheney, which was also wise. Obama is removing Hagel for the opposite reason — to continue an unwise policy and enhance the influence of the White House staff and continue the endless battles between the White House and the Obama Cabinet that I discussed in my column.

It is ironic that President Bush did make changes, which were wise, while the president who succeeded him on a promise of hope and change refuses to change, which is profoundly unwise.

Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen (D-Texas) and former Rep. Bill Alexander (D-Ark.), who was then chief deputy majority whip of the House. He holds an LL.M. degree in international financial law from the London School of Economics. Contact him at