By Roman Orsini
According to the New York Times, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel resigned his post under pressure from President Obama due to disagreements he had with the administration while running the Department of Defense on Monday, Nov. 24. Hagel was narrowly confirmed by the Senate last February, and his departure comes after a Republican surge in this year’s midterm elections.
A highly decorated Vietnam veteran, private sector manager and Republican senator from Nebraska, Hagel was largely chosen by the administration to manage an array of budget cuts and policy changes the DOD would face. Yet a series of international crises during his tenure, particularly the rise of the Islamic State, produced sharp disagreements with Obama, culminating in Hagel’s removal.
The discord became public in October when White House officials leaked the fact that Hagel had written a memo to National Security Advisor Susan Rice in which he denounced the administration’s policy on Syria, according to the Washington Post. Prior to the memo, Obama appointed General John Allen as his envoy responsible for forming a coalition to combat ISIS, circumventing Hagel’s position as defense secretary.
Political considerations by Obama to alter his national security team, in response to the now Republican-led Congress, also factored into Hagel’s removal. Republicans have become increasingly critical of the administration’s handling of the Syrian War and ISIS and are demanding more aggressive measures to counter them. Hagel’s managerial talents would prove insufficient for dealing with escalating conflicts abroad, particularly in a way that satisfies a more hawkish Congress.
An anonymous administration official, quoted by the New York Times, described Obama’s calculation by saying, “(the President is) too close to Susan Rice, and John Kerry (Secretary of State) is in the middle of Iran negotiations … So he went for the low-hanging fruit.”
Hagel was never fully embraced by Obama’s national security team and was often silent during its meetings. Because of his conflicting view on the role of the military in dealing with Syria, Obama often preferred to consult with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Martin Dempsey instead, according to the New York Times.
Hagel’s resignation will usher in the fourth defense secretary for the administration, though it is unknown who will succeed him. The decision was made, in part to reduce conflict with Congress, yet is still receiving some rebuke.
“When the president goes through three secretaries, he should ask, ‘Is it them, or is it me?’” Rep. Howard McKeon (R-CA) said.