The Departure of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel

On Monday 25 November, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced he will be stepping down from his post. There were those who believed Hagel might resign at some point over the course of the remainder of Obama’s term but for the most part the suddenness of the announcement was a shock. Immediately there was speculation over why; was this Hagel’s choice or was he forced out. The Obama administration has been under intense criticism for its handling of foreign policy and so the White House may have seen the need for a new defense secretary. On the other hand, it is reported that Hagel was increasingly at odds with Obama and his closest advisers. Whatever the case, I fear the next secretary will be even less independent of the White House.

Hagel was nominated by Obama to be the 24th Secretary of Defense in January 2013. Hagel is a Republican and former Nebraska Senator who had a falling out with the party following his vocal opposition to the war in Iraq as it progressed and to the policies of the Bush administration. Despite being a Republican, his confirmation hearings were highly contentious and he was subject not only to criticism from the Senate but also attacks from independent groups. His somewhat blunt views on Iran and Israel which were in opposition to those held by the Republican party were the focus of opposition and dominated the entire confirmation process. Ultimately he was confirmed and with him Obama gained his sole Republican in the cabinet.

At the time Hagel was brought in to oversee the drawdown from Afghanistan and cuts to the defense budget. World events though drastically changed the situation and Hagel who was not meant to be a wartime defense secretary soon became one. In early 2013, ISIS was not rampaging through the Middle East and Russia wasn't invading the Ukraine. Increasingly, the task that Hagel had been brought in to accomplish was supplanted by the need for increased international involvement.

Why is Hagel resigning? The White House is portraying Hagel as not being up to the task of the position anymore given the changing global situation. Frankly the same sentiment can be applied to the entire foreign policy and defense team of this administration. True Hagel was brought in not to put out international fires but to oversee a military drawdown and deal with a Pentagon with a reduced operating budget. Regardless there is a different narrative emanating from the Pentagon and it is decidedly against the president who is accused of micromanaging and relying more on his White House advisers such as his National Security Adviser and chief of staff than department heads or cabinet secretaries.

Hagel has come into conflict with Obama and his closest advisers in recent months on multiple issues. This was most seen in October when he came to loggerheads with National Security Adviser Susan Rice and others over policy in Syria, policy which Hagel believed to be confused and ambiguous. Additionally Hagel argued that we can't discount the possibility of having to use ground forces at some point in Iraq, an idea which the White House flat out opposes despite concerns from the military. Though nowhere near as independent of Obama as former secretary Robert Gates, these instances of dissension did go against Obama who has been tightening his foreign policy and defense circle at the White House.

With the departure of Hagel the Obama administration will be moving on to its fourth defense secretary. The last and only other president who cycled through four confirmed secretaries was President Truman back in the 1950s. Obama's last two secretaries, Gates and Leon Panetta have both been critical of the president in his handling of foreign policy and defense issues. One wonders if Hagel with his new found freedom will offer his views and criticisms of the president like his predecessors.

If Hagel was pushed out which seems to be the most likely cause of his departure and one which you can't blame him for denying, then so be it. Truth is we do need a defense secretary who is ready to handle the security issues currently facing this country. I get the impression though that Obama pushed him out not only for that but also to reign in his advisers and remove anyone who isn't in his inner circle. In that case Obama is playing political games with his advisers and instead of allowing for opposing viewpoints, is silencing and removing them. I almost feel sympathy for Hagel.

Posted by SPBrooker at December 3, 2014 10:23 PM
Comment #386312

What is kind of funny is that Obama’s 2 top picks for the position of SECDEF said THANKS BUT NO THANKS.

Posted by: Rich KAPitan at December 4, 2014 3:03 PM
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