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In fact, even by this past September — two months before Obama’s re-election — Hagel had adopted much of Obama’s language on Iran. In a Washington Post opinion piece that he co-wrote that month, Hagel stated that he believed in “keeping all options on the table, including the use of military force.”
In 2006, Kahl explained, the United States still had 150,000 troops in nearby Iraq, and Iran was far from reaching the kind of capability that would enable it to build a nuclear bomb (an intent that Iran denies). Now, U.S forces are already out of Iraq and are on their way out of Afghanistan. Meanwhile, Iran has moved closer to being able to build a bomb, and Hagel’s views have shifted in response to all these factors.
Even if differences with the White House develop further down the road, Washington’s clear lines of hierarchy could limit friction. As commander in chief, Obama is solely responsible for decisions of war and peace.
“In this administration, foreign policy, and specifically policy on Iran, is set at the White House,” said Kahl, who is now an associate professor at Georgetown University. “It is not an issue in which the president is seeking the counsel of the secretary of defense, or an issue he is willing to have his mind changed on.”
Still as Obama’s top adviser on military issues, Hagel will have input.
“No president will make this call without the Pentagon, the CIA and the State Department,” said Shoshana Bryen, senior director of the Jewish Policy Center and an expert on military affairs relating to the Middle East. “The job of defense secretary is to tell the president what he can hope to achieve on the ground.”
Experts diverge in their views on the impact that a war skeptic such as Hagel working as defense secretary will have on the dynamics of the U.S.-Iran standoff. Writing in Commentary, neoconservative analyst Max Boot from the Council on Foreign Relations argued that having Hagel in the Pentagon would send to the region a message of American reluctance to take on Iran.