This is a rush transcript from "Journal Editorial Report," November 29, 2014. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
PAUL GIGOT, HOST: This week on the "Journal Editorial Report," Chuck Hagel is out after just 20 months at the Pentagon. Is he the fall guy for the White House's failed foreign policy?
Plus, nuclear negotiations are extended again, giving Iran seven more months to build a bomb.
And from national security setbacks to his go-it-alone governance, is President Obama hurting Hillary Clinton's chances in 2016?
Welcome to the "Journal Editorial Report." I'm Paul Gigot.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel resigned this week after just 20 months at the helm of the Pentagon, reportedly pushed out by President Obama in a move that further consolidates national security decision-making in the White House and raises questions about the direction of the administration's foreign policy its last two years.
For more, I'm joined by Wall Street Journal columnist and deputy editor, Dan Henninger; foreign affairs columnist, Bret Stephens; and editorial board member, Matt Kaminski.
So, what's fascinating here, Matt, is that many on the right and the left, in talking about the Hagel resignation, basically say the problem with Obama's foreign policy isn't Hagel, wasn't Hagel. It's in the White House.
MATT KAMINSKI, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: The thing is Chuck Hagel is a nonentity as the chief at the Pentagon. He started out very badly, if you remember, at his confirmation hearings. He could never articulate the policy. And then after he was thrown over, the White House spun that he was really not up to the job. Of course, they picked him for the job in the first place. But he was not the problem with the foreign policy --
GIGOT: Now, wait. You say he's was a nonentity. That's the White House spin. But is that fair? Or was the real problem the fact that the White House wanted to make all of the decisions? They hired him as a so- called implementer of the policy. And as the world changed, he decided, hey, maybe our policy needs to change, and he started representing the generals who didn't really like the Obama foreign policy?
KAMINSKI: I'm not sure how much support he really had in the House, at the Pentagon. He was not going to go down as one of the stronger secretaries of defense. But, again, he was immaterial to the failures of the foreign policy because the foreign policy is so centralized. And in fact, I think the reason why they pushed him out was because he was not the "yes man" they thought they were putting in --
GIGOT: Exactly. Exactly.
KAMINSKI: And he was pushing back at the end. He was frustrated. But he had no influence. So I think, is it bad that he's gone? Probably, not.
GIGOT: He said how -- he spoke up and said, with Chairman Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, that ISIS was a bigger threat than the White House was admitting.
BRET STEPHENS, FOREIGN AFFAIRS COLUMNIST: Yeah.
GIGOT: He pushed back on Syria, and said your policy lacks clarity, and we need to get clarity if we're going to succeed against ISIS, and the White House certainly didn't like that, Bret.
STEPHENS: No. That's absolutely true. I guess you can give him a point or two for finally sort of seeing the light. But let's face it, this was an incompetent secretary of defense who had his agenda, which was mainly a personal agenda, to serve in the office, and then you have an incompetent national security process in the White House, and the two of them simply didn't get along. This could be an opportunity for the president to really pivot on defense issues and really pivot on national security, choose a strong capable secretary of defense in the mold of some of the previous two, like Leon Panetta and Robert Gates. My guess is that what the president is going to want is another fat toad in the Pentagon so he can continue to run defense policy out of the White House.
GIGOT: Confidence is not high that that is going -- that kind of pivot is going --
DAN HENNINGER, COLUMNIST, DEPUTY EDITOR: Well, confidence is not high anywhere in the world about the Obama foreign policy.
There's sort of an irony here. One of the criticisms that came out of the Pentagon was that the White House insists on micromanaging policy. But the Pentagon also said that they could not get decisions out of this White House, that their ability to make decisions is very weak. You know, that's what you hear in the capitals all over the world. The Saudis would say to people, what is Obama's strategic policy in this region, because we'll get visited by a secretary of defense and secretary of state, and they are al coming in with different ideas about what we should be doing.
GIGOT: I will say, we're not making this up.
GIGOT: Everybody who comes through, from anybody, any country, Europe, Middle East or so, and they all have the same message.
HENNINGER: No strategist vision.
GIGOT: What is the policy?
STEPHENS: Yeah, the policy of the Obama administration is to have less foreign policy and to hope to offshore our problems or strategic problems to some other countries, except when it really matter to the administration, for instance, Iran. So there's a sense of a shrinking American footprint, and allies from Japan to Israel to Baltic States and Poland, are asking themselves, where's the United States.
GIGOT: Is there a sign, Matt -- sorry. Is there a sign of a larger shake-up here in the staff?
KAMINSKI: I don't think so. I think this is basically the only head that's going to fall. And they went out of their way to praise John Kerry, at State. Susan Rice is going to -- seems like, is going to stay put as the national security adviser. But the crisis of confidence is also, I think, in the Obama administration. I keep hearing Washington --
GIGOT: Inside, you mean. Insider?
KAMINSKI: Things have clearly not worked for them. And if you're working on a team where things are not working out, even President Obama might have some self-doubts.
GIGOT: And that's why you have some of this sniping as Hagel goes out the door? Most unseemly. This is not what -- had that dog-and-pony show where they shook hands in the White House and everything seemed to be --
STEPHENS: Well, this was several weeks in the making. This didn't just happen overnight. The president didn't wake up in the morning and decide to fire Chuck Hagel. What I don't understand is why don't they have a replacement ready to go right away? This is -- I mean, we're living in a period of serious national security crises. That's not an office you want to leave unfilled for a matter of months or have a vacuum there.
GIGOT: But who would want to take the job?
HENNINGER: Who would want to take the job? You can't take this job unless you're willing to be a "yes man," or as Matt suggested, do what the president wants you to do. John Kerry got the climate deal with China. He's now pursuing the agreement with Iran. Chuck Hagel started to push back on Guantanamo and the Middle East, he was out of there. Who will they find who just says yes --