Chuck Hagel to the next president: ‘Listen’

Former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has some advice for the next president: “Listen.” 

The advice from President Obama’s third Defense secretary came as he and three other former Pentagon chiefs spoke on a panel Monday evening and were asked for recommendations for the next president on the U.S.-China relationship.

{mosads}Some of the other respondents’ advice extended beyond China. Hagel’s answer was short. 

“One word? Listen,” he said.

Hagel also emphasized listening to military leaders in an earlier answer, a tendency of his that reportedly irked some within the Obama administration who thought he was too deferential to Pentagon brass.  

“I would say as someone who has walked on both sides of the street, the political side and the administration side, politicians have to listen more to our military,” Hagel said when asked what the U.S. could do to improve the U.S.-China military-to-military relationship. 

“And I don’t mean changing the Constitution. I mean listen to our military. They get it better than most politicians on things like this. And some of the finest statesmen I’ve ever met in my life are in military uniform,” Hagel, a former Army infantryman, added. 

When asked after the panel whether he felt the administration had not listened to military officers enough, Hagel replied, “I think the comment I made here, I’ll let that stand.”

Since he resigned in November of 2014, Hagel has mostly stayed quiet about his relationship with the Obama administration and the reasons for his departure. 

But in a recent interview with Foreign Policy, he criticized the administration’s national security decision-making process and suggested he was less than satisfied with his access to the president. 

When the former Republican Nebraska senator was offered the job of Defense secretary in 2012, his “only request was that he be given access to the president,” according to the article. 

However, Hagel later found that access did not necessarily mean a one-on-one meeting in the Oval Office with Obama — a setting in which he preferred to give his advice. 

“There were times that I had called over and asked to have a private meeting with the president, and when I showed up, there were others in the room,” he told the outlet.

Hagel even wrote a memo to privately express his mounting concern about the lack of a Syria policy — a move that was not well received by the administration and seen as an attempt to dictate policy or blame others, according to the article. 

Hagel avoided criticizing the administration on Monday, however, saying it was too early to judge its legacy on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“No president that I’m aware of … has ever accomplished everything they set out to do, partly because of the uncontrollables. Their attempt was good, their promises were sincere but they won’t do it, and that’s the way of the world,” he added. 

Monday evening’s panel, hosted by the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations, featured former Defense Secretaries Harold Brown, William Cohen and William Perry. 

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