Jack Torry in our Washington Bureau and our military affairs reporter Barrie Barber are covering the announcement that Chuck Hagel is stepping down as secretary of Defense. Here’s Jack’s report which we will update throughout the day.
By Jack Torry
and Barrie Barber
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel resigned today after less than two years of directing the Pentagon, a move that had been anticipated during the past few weeks.
With Vice President Joe Biden and Hagel at his side at the State Dining Room at the White House, Obama announced Hagel would leave his post as soon as the Senate confirms his successor. It is unlikely the next nominee would be confirmed until January when the Republicans assume control of the Senate.
Although Obama said that “Chuck has been an exemplary defense secretary,” there was little secret that Hagel had not played nearly as prominent of a role in defense policy as Robert Gates and Leon Panetta, who served as Obama’s first two defense secretaries.
Hagel appeared to enjoy at best lukewarm support from the White House and Capitol Hill. Even though he had been a Republican senator from Nebraska, he faced a grueling confirmation process in 2013 and was confirmed by a tenuous 58-41 vote.
“It has been the greatest privilege of my life, the greatest privilege of my life to lead, and most importantly to serve, to serve with the men and women of the Defense Department and support their families,” Hagel said. “I am immensely proud of what we have accomplished during this time.”
But there also were signs that Hagel was weary of a White House that has moved aggressively to centralize foreign and national security policy on such issues as U.S. air strikes against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. In particular, Hagel expressed greater alarm about the threat is ISIS than the White House did.
“He tended to say things in public that the administration found uncomfortable,” said Loren Thompson, a defense analyst at the Virginia-based Lexington Institute. “The administration wanted to do a limited and measured response and Hagel made ISIS sound like a huge threat.”
Among those reportedly under consideration are Michele Flournoy, who served as undersecretary of defense for policy under Panetta.
“The reason why she would be a good choice is because she is very careful and analytical about what she says at public forums,” he said. “She will never get crosswise with the White House.”
Since leaving the government, Flournoy has emerged as a major critic of the automatic spending reductions – known as a sequester – which will force the Pentagon to cut $500 billion out of its projected budget during the next decade.
“You can’t expect to defend the nation under sequestration,” Flournoy said during a conference of defense experts last month in Washington.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-West Chester, said he wanted “to thank” Hagel for his service as a combat soldier in Vietnam, a Republican senator from Nebraska, and secretary of defense.
But Boehner warned that the change in leadership at the Pentagon “must be part of a larger re-thinking of our strategy to confront the threats we face abroad, especially the threat posed” by the Islamic State, a Sunni militant group which holds large swaths of Syria and Iraq.
“We cannot defeat this enemy without a broad, coordinated, well-thought-out effort that has the strong support of the American people,” Boehner said. “Thus far, this administration has fallen well short.”
Thompson said that Hagel also was a victim of a deteriorating international situation, particularly a more aggressive Russia in Ukraine and Crimea and the near collapse of the Iraqi Army against ISIS.
He said Hagel was hired to implement a new military strategy but that strategy quickly got overtaken by events. When President Obama rolled out the strategy … Russia had not invaded Ukraine and nobody had ever heard of the Islamic State.”