President Obama described Chuck Hagel as “a young Army sergeant from Vietnam who rose to serve as America’s 24th secretary of defense” at a press conference today announcing Hagel’s resignation. Hagel will continue to serve as Secretary of Defense until a replacement has been confirmed by the Senate. According to The New York Times, the former Republican Senator Hagel had been asked to step down from his post by officials within the Obama administration after he made comments in August that contradicted the President’s messaging on the conflict with ISIS.
MSNBC quoted an anonymous Obama administration official who said, “He wasn’t up to the job.” Another anonymous White House insider told The New York Times, “The next couple of years will demand a different kind of focus.” Hagel reportedly struggled to make allies within Obama’s inner circle and failed to provide consistent, clear statements articulating the President’s national security agenda. Critics claimed that he was too passive in his leadership, quiet during staff meetings, and too quick to let General Martin E. Dempsey do most of the talking on behalf of the Pentagon.
At one point, Chuck Hagel called ISIS an “imminent threat to every interest we have… beyond anything that we’ve seen” at a time when the Obama administration was trying to downplay the threat, offending administration officials. According to PJ Media, Hagel spoke at the Reagan Library last week and suggested that America’s military capability is in decline under Obama’s leadership. “I am worried about it, I am concerned about it, Chairman Dempsey is, the chiefs are, every leader of this institution,” said Hagel, notably omitting President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden from the list of officials worried about the nation’s military prowess.
Slate notes that many reports suggest that Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter or former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Michèle Flournoy may be on the administration’s radar as a replacement for Hagel. Democrat Senator Jack Reed has also been mentioned as a possible replacement, but a spokesperson for his office told The New York Times, “Senator Reed loves his job and does not wish to be considered for secretary of defense or any other cabinet post.”
President Obama said that Hagel had not been fired and that the Secretary of Defense had himself opened talks two weeks ago in an effort to iron out a resignation that has been characterized by both sides as “mutual.”
“It’s been the greatest privilege of my life to serve with the men and women of the defense department and defend their families,” said Hagel as he announced his resignation.