Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel (Jim Watson/Associated Press) Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel (Jim Watson/Associated Press)

The ostensible reason for putting former soldier Chuck Hagel at the Pentagon was to give the troops someone to look after their best interests. He understands the fighting man, we were told, never mind whether that is a qualification for a top-level cabinet position responsible for military strategy. Now, it seems, Defense Secretary Hagel is doing a rotten job of looking out for the fighting men and women.

Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter today gave a security talk in which he explained:

On top of all these reductions, we are now dealing with the harmful effects of sequestration, which is not only regrettable and embarrassing, but disruptive.

Already, sequestration has had a significant impact on force readiness, with 12 combat-coded Air Force squadrons and 18 training squadrons grounded. The Army has cancelled the 9 remaining mission command exercises this year and all but one of the remaining brigade decisive action rotations at Army Combat Training centers. Each time training is cancelled, it leaves commanders and their staffs unprepared for unexpected contingencies. Moreover, it leaves commanders unsure about the resources or personnel that will be available for future missions. Perhaps most concerning, sequestration is painting an uncertain picture of the United States in the eyes of our friends and foes alike that could be dangerously out of proportion.

Well, why didn’t Hagel insist we not undermine our fighting men and women? Why hasn’t he demanded the president stop holding the troops hostage for another tax increase?

He says the troops are suffering from “freezing hiring, cutting travel and training, delaying facilities maintenance, halting exercises, and initiating the process of furloughing civilian employees, all of which reduces readiness and hurts retention, recruiting, and morale…. [G]rueling combat, long periods away from home, missed birthdays, anniversaries, and graduations, burying friends and colleagues – all this has taken a toll. The force is weary. Families are weary.”

Hmm. Why did the president insist on the sequester? Why has he refused to avert it without insisting on a condition (tax hike) that he knows is unacceptable to the GOP?

Then there is  the phenomenal Obama team — Hagel, John Kerry, John Brennan, etc. — that has helped the president eviscerate his promise to the American people and to Elie Wiesel that we would do “everything” we could to stop the violence in Syria. Oh, and it seems that his pledge to “have Israel’s back” doesn’t cover Hezbollah, Iran and Syria.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), chairwoman of the Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee, observed at the recent subcommittee meeting:

Now as we enter our third year of this conflict, the Assad regime has been responsible for the murder of over 80,000 Syrians, and over 1.5 million people have fled seeking refuge in other countries.

This administration had an opportunity to support the demonstrators from the beginning who took to the streets demanding that Assad step down. Yet, just like it failed to voice a full-throated support for the demonstrators in Iran after the 2009 elections, it was deafeningly silent and failed to advance the cause for democratic reform.

Instead of supporting the popular uprisings from the onset and immediately calling for Assad to step down, President Obama waited five months to publicly call for his removal. The delayed response also allowed for extremist groups and al-Qaeda affiliates to move in and coopt the movement, setting up the bloody conflict that we see every day.

There are tens of thousands dead, millions who have been displaced, and the conflict continues to spiral out of control. It has placed an incredible burden on our allies in the region, like Jordan, which takes in thousands of Syrian refugees daily and rightfully fears what might come next should the fighting spillover into its own area….

An influx of Russian arms into Syria has escalated this battle and has helped prop up Assad. If Moscow does not cease arming the regime, the United States should reevaluate our relationship with Russia. Together with my [Democratic] colleague Brad Sherman, I introduced H.R. 893 — the Iran, North Korea and Syria Nonproliferation Accountability Act — that would address this issue head on…. Syria is the linchpin that holds Iran’s strategic influence into the greater Middle East. Should Assad fall, Iran and Hezbollah might quickly move to fill the power vacuum;

And should Iran and Hezbollah get a hold of Syria’s chemical weapons, not only would this cause greater tensions in the region and seriously endanger our friend and ally Israel, but it could spark an even greater conflict.

In this administration, be it the president or his senior team, actions need not follow rhetoric, promises are only temporary and our troops, our allies and repressed people are on their own. On a moral and strategic level, this administration has been a fiasco.

To some extent, Senate Republicans share the blame for agreeing to approve incompetent nominees. But the source of the problem and the lion’s share of the blame rests with the president. A decade of war is over. We can do business with Russia. Tehran’s rulers want to join the family of nations. The United States can be replaced by multi-national bodies. Israel is the problem in the conflict with the Palestinians.

At some point, we have to wonder whether he cares about maintaining our status as a superpower and leading the Free World. The results suggest either a lack of will or extraordinary incompetence. Maybe both.