As President Obama announced the resignation of Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, he insisted that he was stepping down on his own decision. “Chuck came to me to discuss the final quarter of my presidency and determined that having guided the department through this transition, it was an appropriate time for him to complete his service,” said Obama.
But, all of the buzz and reporting thus far suggests that it was not really Hagel’s decision at all. We expect there will be much more analysis in the days and weeks to come.
Pentagon chief Hagel stepping down under pressure
WASHINGTON (AP) — Under pressure from President Barack Obama, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel submitted his resignation Monday amid White House concerns about his effectiveness and broader criticism from outside about the administration’s Middle East crisis management.
The president said he and Hagel had determined it was an “appropriate time for him to complete his service.”
Hagel, a former Republican senator, never broke through the White House’s notably insular national security team. Officials privately griped about his ability to publicly communicate administration policy and more recently questioned whether he had the capacity to oversee new military campaigns against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria.
Hagel is the first high-level member of Obama’s national security team to step down in the wake of both a disastrous midterm election for the president’s party and persistent criticism about the administration’s policies in the Middle East and elsewhere. It’s unclear whether Hagel’s forced resignation signals the start of a broader shake-up of the president’s team; White House officials said it was possible there could be more departures.
Among the leading contenders to replace Hagel is Michele Flournoy, who served as the Pentagon’s policy chief for the first three years of Obama’s presidency. Flournoy, who would be the first woman to head the Pentagon, is now chief executive officer of the Center for a New American Security, a think tank that she co-founded.
Flournoy is said to be interested in the top Pentagon job but seeking assurances from the White House that she would be given greater latitude in policymaking than Hagel. Flournoy is also considered a possible defense secretary for Hillary Rodham Clinton if Clinton should win the presidency in 2016.
Others mentioned as possible replacements include Ashton Carter, the former deputy defense secretary, and Robert Work, who currently holds that post.
With Hagel’s departure, Obama will be the first president since Harry Truman to have four defense secretaries. Hagel’s two predecessors, Robert Gates and Leon Panetta, complained after leaving the administration about White House micromanagement and political interference in policy decisions.
Rep. Buck McKeon, chair of the House Armed Services Committee, suggested Obama consider his own role in his administration’s foreign policy struggles rather than seeking another changeover at the Pentagon.
“When the president goes through three secretaries, he should ask, ‘Is it them or is it me?'” said McKeon, R-Calif.