After Chuck Hagel: Why Obama’s next pick for Pentagon chief could determine his foreign policy legacy

Poor Defense Secretary Hagel. Hired and fired in just one term.

I’m not surprised.

When he got the job I warned that he was the wrong pick, because he didn’t have good relations with Congress to sell the president’s unpopular agenda on Capitol Hill, or the credibility necessary to sell the military on unpopular budget cuts. And that was before ISIS, Ebola and super-sized, military-gutting defense cuts.


So out with Hagel, in with a new Secretary of Defense The pick could well determine Obama’s foreign policy legacy.

The stakes couldn’t be higher.

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Will the new SecDef and Joint Chiefs work together and persuade the president to change course? Or will the new Pentagon boss buy into the America-in-decline Obama agenda?

Two names being floated for the job are former Pentagon #2 Dr. Ashton Carter, and former Pentagon #3 Michelle Flournoy. Both were runner-ups to Hagel in 2013, and enjoy good relations on both sides of the political aisle, with the military and with the defense industrial base. Carter is a physicist and Rhodes scholar, Flournoy would be the first female Secretary of Defense.

The real issue is what the president wants for his new SecDef. Does he want a qualified independent voice, like Carter or Flournoy could provide? Is he open to rethinking his policies, and possibly changing course? Or is Monday’s announcement just a P.R. move, with the White House spin-control machine scapegoating the hapless Hagel as the fall guy for failed policies, but not change those policies? Does the president see Hagel as just another “messaging problem”?

If so, by the time Obama leaves office, Iran will be a de facto nuclear state, China will have a major footprint in Asia, Putin will be knocking on NATO’s door, and the American military will be one of the smallest and most demoralized in recent history.

Our allies yearn for us to lead again, and our adversaries continue to treat the president like the lame duck leader of a has-been nation. The Obama doctrine of leading from behind will become the Obama legacy of America being left behind.

No amount of spin fixes that.

Kathleen Troia “K.T.” McFarland is a Fox News National Security Analyst and host of’s “DefCon 3.” She served in national security posts in the Nixon, Ford and Reagan administrations.