Former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said President Obama’s credibility has been damaged by his administration’s handling of the conflict in Syria.
The former Republican senator from Nebraska also weighed in on the 2016 presidential race and the state of the Republican Party.
“I’m not sure what the Republican Party is today. It’s not the party that I started out in. I think it is an amalgamation of tribes. I think the Republican Party is tribal today. It reminds me of the area I grew up in in Nebraska of the Sioux nation – the Sioux nation was made up of many different tribes and that’s where the Republican Party is,” Hagel said at the Atlantic Council.
“I think the Republican Party will get to a center of gravity that philosophically it kind of used to express. I’m not sure what the Republican philosophy is. I’m not sure what the party is. I don’t know where it is. I saw that evolving when I was in the Senate,” he added.
One of the reasons Hagel said he decided not to run for a third term was the atmosphere in Congress.
“I think I had a pretty good shot at being re-elected since I had just been re-elected 6 years prior with 84 percent of the vote,” he said. “I didn’t want to spend another 6 years of my life in that kind of situation – the chaos and the absolutism that’s really been rooted in essentially both parties but especially the Republican Party.”
He called on congressional candidates to come to Washington to govern.
“Why do you want to come to Washington – to tear it down? You go out and campaign against Washington. The Senate is a terrible place – you can’t get anything done. House is a terrible place but yet you want to come here and have Senator or Congressman in front of your name, but what’s the point?” Hagel said.
“Well, the point should be only one point and that is to help govern our country – govern, govern, govern. We haven’t done any governing in this country for a long time and both sides are to blame for that.”
Hagel warned about the dangers of removing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, comparing the situation to Iraq before Saddam Hussein was captured.
“We have allowed ourselves to get caught and paralyzed on our Syrian policy by the statement that ‘Assad must go,’” he said. “Assad was never our enemy. A brutal dictator? Yes. There are a lot of brutal dictators out there. I’m not for brutal dictators, but we should have learned from Saddam Hussein and Gadhafi you can take a brutal dictator out but you better understand what you may get in return.”
Hagel said the goal in Syria should be to reach a “platform of stability.” Hagel was asked about Obama backing away from his initial “red line” position of taking action against Assad if he used chemical weapons.
“It did hurt the credibility of the president. When a president of the United States says something, it means something,” he said. “To make those kinds of pronouncements and not follow through affects the credibility of the president.”
He added that “Assad is eventually going to have to leave” but that should “not hold us captive to everything else.”