Chuck Hagel on Fighting Islamic State: 'There Is No Military Solution'

November 22, 2015

Former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said Sunday that it was his and former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey's opinion that "there is no military solution" to defeating the Islamic State terrorist organization.

Appearing on State of the Union with Jake Tapper, Hagel delved into the secret memo he sent last year criticizing the Obama administration's handling of Middle East policy. A source at the time suggested Hagel had internal disagreements with White House policy on Iraq and Syria, and Hagel would up resigning just weeks after the Democrats were routed in the 2014 midterm elections.

Hagel said Islamic State presented a "complicated" problem and the U.S. needed to sort out whether Assad or IS was the enemy.

"First, I think everyone understands what we are up against in the world today," Hagel said. "ISIS and all the different elements of terrorism and dynamics and historic differences and challenges and threats is complicated ... There are no easy, simple solutions, regardless of some who appear to have very glib, quick solutions.

"Second, I always felt that we needed to more clearly define our political strategy, along with our military strategy, because it's my opinion, it certainly was the opinion of the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marty Dempsey, he can speak for himself, but it was our opinion that there is no military solution to this. We are up against an ideology. We are up against a reality of dynamics, a set of dynamics we've never seen before. Sophistication of social media, the military prowess, the tactical, strategic prowess that ISIS possesses, the funding. So we should more clearly define what is our political strategy. What are our priorities? Who is the enemy here? Is Assad the enemy or is ISIS the enemy?"

"Do you think that we should not have Assad as our designated enemy right now? We should focus on ISIS?" Tapper asked.

"Well, Assad is a very bad guy," Hagel said. "There are bad guys all over the world, but I think it's pretty clear that ISIS represents the real threat to our country, to the world. I said so 15 months ago in a press conference when I was asked about ISIS ... Assad has to be dealt with, but you can't confuse your allies and your adversaries by saying Assad must go."

Hagel said the main complaint of his memo was that the Obama administration had not defined its "political strategy" about addressing the Syrian regime.