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Hagel Said to Be Stepping Down as Defense Chief Under Pressure

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  • Hagel Said to Be Stepping Down as Defense Chief Under Pressure

    WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is stepping down under pressure, the first cabinet-level casualty of the collapse of President Obama’s Democratic majority in the Senate and the struggles of his national security team to respond to an onslaught of global crises.

    The president, who is expected to announce Mr. Hagel’s resignation in a Rose Garden appearance on Monday, made the decision to ask his defense secretary — the sole Republican on his national security team — to step down last Friday after a series of meetings over the past two weeks, senior administration officials said.

    The officials described Mr. Obama’s decision to remove Mr. Hagel, 68, as a recognition that the threat from the Islamic State would require a different kind of skills than those that Mr. Hagel was brought on to employ. A Republican with military experience who was skeptical about the Iraq war, Mr. Hagel came in to manage the Afghanistan combat withdrawal and the shrinking Pentagon budget in the era of budget sequestration.

    But now “the next couple of years will demand a different kind of focus,” one administration official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. He insisted that Mr. Hagel was not fired, saying that the defense secretary initiated discussions about his future two weeks ago with the president, and that the two men mutually agreed that it was time for him to leave.

    But Mr. Hagel’s aides had maintained in recent weeks that he expected to serve the full four years as defense secretary. His removal appears to be an effort by the White House to show that it is sensitive to critics who have pointed to stumbles in the government’s early response to several national security issues, including the Ebola crisis and the threat posed by the Islamic State.

    Even before the announcement of Mr. Hagel’s removal, Obama officials were speculating on his possible replacement. At the top of the list are Michèle Flournoy, a former under secretary of defense; Senator Jack Reed, Democrat of Rhode Island and a former officer with the Army’s 82nd Airborne; and Ashton B. Carter, a former deputy secretary of defense.

    A respected former senator who struck a friendship with Mr. Obama when they were both critics of the Iraq war from positions on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Mr. Hagel has nonetheless had trouble penetrating the tight team of former campaign aides and advisers who form Mr. Obama’s closely knit set of loyalists. Senior administration officials have characterized him as quiet during cabinet meetings; Mr. Hagel’s defenders said that he waited until he was alone with the president before sharing his views, the better to avoid leaks.

    Whatever the case, Mr. Hagel struggled to fit in with Mr. Obama’s close circle and was viewed as never gaining traction in the administration after a bruising confirmation fight among his old Senate colleagues, during which he was criticized for seeming tentative in his responses to sharp questions.

    He never really shed that pall after arriving at the Pentagon, and in the past few months he has largely ceded the stage to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, who officials said initially won the confidence of Mr. Obama with his recommendation of military action against the Islamic State.

    In Mr. Hagel’s less than two years on the job, his detractors said he struggled to inspire confidence at the Pentagon in the manner of his predecessors, especially Robert M. Gates. But several of Mr. Obama’s top advisers over the past few months have also acknowledged privately that the president did not want another high-profile defense secretary in the mold of Mr. Gates, who went on to write a memoir of his years with Mr. Obama in which he sharply criticized the president. Mr. Hagel, they said, in many ways was exactly the kind of defense secretary whom the president, after battling the military during his first term, wanted.

    Mr. Hagel, for his part, spent his time on the job largely carrying out Mr. Obama’s stated wishes on matters like bringing back American troops from Afghanistan and trimming the Pentagon budget, with little pushback. He did manage to inspire loyalty among enlisted soldiers and often seemed at his most confident when talking to troops or sharing wartime experiences as a Vietnam veteran.

    But Mr. Hagel has often had problems articulating his thoughts — or administration policy — in an effective manner, and has sometimes left reporters struggling to describe what he has said in news conferences. In his side-by-side appearances with both General Dempsey and Secretary of State John Kerry, Mr. Hagel, a decorated Vietnam veteran and the first former enlisted combat soldier to be defense secretary, has often been upstaged.

    He raised the ire of the White House in August as the administration was ramping up its strategy to fight the Islamic State, directly contradicting the president, who months before had likened the Sunni militant group to a junior varsity basketball squad. Mr. Hagel, facing reporters in his now-familiar role next to General Dempsey, called the Islamic State an “imminent threat to every interest we have,” adding, “This is beyond anything that we’ve seen.” White House officials later said they viewed those comments as unhelpful, although the administration still appears to be struggling to define just how large is the threat posed by the Islamic State.

  • #2
    It will be interesting to see who gets the job.
    ...maybe DEPSECDEF Robert Orton Work ?


    • #3
      Originally posted by JRT View Post
      It will be interesting to see who gets the job.
      ...maybe DEPSECDEF Robert Orton Work ?
      I wish.

      But I don't think he would last long.


      • #4
        While he's at it Obama should fire half the NSC staff. McCain says Hagel was treated unfairly. It will be recalled that McCain questioned his nomination 2 years ago.

        The Fall Guy

        The Fall Guy
        Getting rid of Hagel is not a cure for what ails Obama's national security team -- it's a symptom of the disease.

        BY David Rothkopf
        NOVEMBER 24, 2014

        The knives were out for Chuck Hagel as soon as he was appointed secretary of defense. At first, however, those blades belonged to the snarky and dubious members of the press corps assigned to him. The Washington buzz was that Hagel, despite his years in the Senate and accomplishments in business and the military, was not up to the job. But today, with word of Hagel being ousted from the Obama cabinet, many of those who doubted him feel he was wronged.

        With the Obama administration coming off an extremely rocky first two years of its second term on the national security front, many, including myself, urged the president to take a page out of the book of his predecessors and shake up a team that was clearly not serving him well.

        As early as two months ago, the buzz coming from administration insiders was that Hagel might become a sacrificial lamb on that front.

        As early as two months ago, the buzz coming from administration insiders was that Hagel might become a sacrificial lamb on that front. His relations with the White House were not great. He was not seen as a strong secretary of defense. And he was seen, in the words of one former senior Obama aide, as having "gone native." This meant he was becoming a conduit for the growing frustrations of the military leadership in the Department of Defense toward the reactive, strategically incoherent responses of the president and his White House team, particularly regarding the growing threat posed by the Islamic State spreading chaos in Iraq and Syria.

        Hagel's appointment may have been a sign of the president's and his closest advisors' bad judgment when Hagel was hired. Hagel lacked the national security bureaucratic know-how and leadership of either Bob Gates or Leon Panetta, the much stronger pair who served the president in the Pentagon during his first term in office. Hagel was a sign of how small the president's circle of acquaintances in the defense area were -- drawn from the one pool Obama knew from his four years in Washington, D.C., prior to becoming president: the Senate. Hagel may have been a brand name but not a great choice. But he was comfortable, it was thought, with Obama, Joe Biden, and John Kerry, four former members -- with Hagel -- of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

        Read more from FP on the Secretary of Defense

        The Cable: Hagel Pushed Out Amid Concerns Over Handling of the Fight Against the Islamic State.
        Shadow Government: How Did Chuck Hagel End Up as the White House's Scapegoat?
        The Pentagon's Invisible Man: Even the defense secretary admits, "It's not a Hagel era."
        Rosa Brooks: 10 Reasons the President Should Ditch Chuck Hagel for Michèle Flournoy.

        But Hagel is not the problem. Sure he has been distant, spending much time on the road. But largely that was due to the fact that this administration has alienated its own cabinet members more than any other in memory. To illustrate this, one need only recall Mark Landler's line in the New York Times about Secretary of State John Kerry being so disconnected from the White House that he resembles Sandra Bullock's astronaut character from the movie Gravity, untethered and adrift. (My book, National Insecurity, in addition to covering much of the dysfunction that led to the current problems, also details similar issues -- as do the books by Panetta, Gates, Vali Nasr, and, to a degree, Hillary Clinton.)

        No, Hagel's alienation, the tension between him and the White House, and the military leadership's burgeoning frustration with the false starts, half-measures, and micromanagement that have marked the administration's Iraq and Syria campaigns are signs of much deeper problems that lie within the way the president himself operates and, from a process perspective, from the way that his National Security Council (NSC) operates.

        At a moment when most second-term presidents have long since bid adieu to their campaign staffers and have focused on governing, Obama is drawing his closer, providing him more of a security blanket than an effective national security team. Susan Rice, his national security advisor, was passenger No. 1 on the Obama campaign's national security team, leading its efforts and working closely throughout with Denis McDonough, now Obama's chief of staff. They have fostered throughout Obama's time in office an "us vs. them" environment with their own colleagues in the administration, beginning but hardly ending with the remnants of the Hillary Clinton for President team. They have stayed tactical as campaign teams do, viewing many of the international options they have considered primarily through a domestic political lens, and thus have been at the heart of the errors that have plagued the Obama team -- from divisions between the White House and Defense or State, to the play fake on attacking Syria last year, to mishandling the NSA scandal, to the underwhelming response to Russian President Vladimir Putin's invasion of Crimea, and to the current situation in Iraq.

        Obama has a number of excellent choices he is likely to consider for the top job at the Pentagon. Michèle Flournoy, the former undersecretary of defense, would have been a better choice back when Hagel was first picked and remains a great choice now. So too would be the former deputy secretary of defense, the brilliant Ash Carter, or another to hold that post, John Hamre.

        Bringing in one of these folks will not fix the deeper problems within the administration. And, candidly, anyone offered the job ought to think long and hard about accepting it without assurances that the White House will give him or her (and the top military brass) the latitude needed to fulfill the missions being assigned. And frankly, the appointee ought to ask what changes will be made within the NSC process to ensure that the overconcentration of power within that bloated staff will be reversed and whether this administration that talks so much about "whole-of-government solutions" will start actually seeking them.

        Once again, of course, a greater challenge and a greater concern hang over all of this.

        The challenge is that the NSC and the national security team are always just a reflection of what the president wants.

        The challenge is that the NSC and the national security team are always just a reflection of what the president wants. If President Obama is unwilling to ask himself how he must change in order to avoid and undo mistakes like those of the past two years, it doesn't matter how many cabinet secretaries come or go. If the move to swap out Chuck Hagel (apparently after a rather contentious tug of war about whether he should depart) is as it appears to be -- a gesture designed to avoid addressing the real problems within the Obama team -- then it is worse than empty. It is a further sign that this is a president resistant to growth or to finding a way to effectively advance the national security interests of the United States.
        To be Truly ignorant, Man requires an Education - Plato


        • #5
          Any guesses on why he was sacked? Anything to do with the crisis in Iraq?
          All those who are merciful with the cruel will come to be cruel to the merciful.
          -Talmud Kohelet Rabbah, 7:16.


          • #6
            Originally posted by Triple C View Post
            Any guesses on why he was sacked? Anything to do with the crisis in Iraq?
            For starters, a good guess would be that he pissed off the White House by openly disagreeing with the president's ISIS policy. It seemed a small thing to the casual news hound, but to those in the know it was more serious.

            Other reasons cited include an on-going tiff with the National Security Adviser, Susan Rice; a hostile relationship with the NSC staff; and lack of bureaucratic skill.

            I don't know that you can say much bad about Hagel. He has always been a straight-talking, independent-minded politician. He's far more educated about foreign relations and history than the average politician. The knock on him from the beginning was that he lacked strong leadership skills. He is (or was) a close friend of Obama from their days on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He voted for but opposed the war in Iraq, primarily because Bush had no viable follow-up plan. I believe he was deeply disappointed that Obama closed him off from policy decisions. He wasn't even informed in advance of the public announcement that Obama had changed his mind about bombing Syria over the gas attacks.
            To be Truly ignorant, Man requires an Education - Plato


            • #7
              Hagel may end up staying as SecDef for months...contenders are dropping out.

              Michèle Flournoy Takes Herself Out of Running for Top Pentagon Job

              The Cable
              Michèle Flournoy Takes Herself Out of Running for Top Pentagon Job

              BY John Hudson , Yochi Dreazen
              NOVEMBER 25, 2014 - 04:17 PM

              Michèle Flournoy, widely seen as the front-runner to replace Chuck Hagel as the next secretary of defense, abruptly took herself out of the running for the job Tuesday, complicating what will be one of the most important personnel decisions of President Barack Obama's second term.

              Flournoy, the co-founder and CEO of the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), a think tank that has served as a farm league for future Obama administration officials, would have been the first female secretary of defense had she risen to the position. The news of her decision to withdraw was first reported by Foreign Policy.

              But in a letter Tuesday to members of the CNAS board of directors, Flournoy said she would remain in her post at the think tank and asked Obama to take her out of consideration to be the next secretary of defense. Flournoy told the board members that family health considerations helped drive her decision and the fact that two of her children are leaving for college in the next two years.

              "Last night I spoke with President Obama and removed myself from consideration due to family concerns," reads the letter, first obtained by FP. "After much agonizing, we decided that now was not the right time for me to reenter government."

              Flournoy's decision means that only one of the three widely rumored names for the post remains under consideration: Ashton Carter, the former deputy secretary of defense. When Hagel was ousted Monday, speculation had immediately turned to Flournoy, Carter, and Democratic Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, a former Army Ranger. But Reed took himself out of the running shortly after Hagel announced his resignation.

              The decision by both Flournoy and Reed to pre-emptively turn down the job underscores the immense challenges facing the next secretary of defense and raised immediate questions about whether senior officials and lawmakers were scared off by the prospect of taking a post that would require dealing with a White House that has centralized much of the policymaking and strategic decisions in the West Wing. Both of Hagel's predecessors, Bob Gates and Leon Panetta, complained about administration meddling and overreach in their respective memoirs. "Despite everyone being 'nice' to me, getting anything consequential done was so damnably difficult," wrote Gates.

              Beyond the bureaucratic issues, the next secretary will also have to manage the war against the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria, find a way to close the U.S. prison facility in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, competently execute a U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, and right-size the nation's military as Congress attempts to lift the across-the-board defense cuts known as sequestration.

              The new Pentagon chief will also face a Congress fully controlled by Republicans devoted to battering the administration for missteps, real and perceived. That will mean having to make repeated trips to Capitol Hill to face angry questioning by incoming Senate Armed Services Committee chairman John McCain of Arizona, who is salivating at the chance to push the next secretary to agree that stronger steps need to be taken against the Islamic State and that military force should remain on the table if the Iran talks break down.

              Those questions could be hard for the nominee to answer because Obama himself seems deeply conflicted about how far he wants to go in battling the Islamic State and countering Russian aggression in Eastern Europe. No matter how experienced or good a defense secretary is at the job, he or she will be responsible for implementing policies forged elsewhere. If the White House is indecisive or reverses itself on key decisions, senior cabinet members can get caught in the lurch. That's precisely what happened in the summer of 2013, when Obama ordered the military to prepare for airstrikes against Assad after the Syrian strongman gassed his own people, only to reverse himself without first telling Hagel.

              With Flournoy out, White House officials will now need to make the hard choice of how to replace Hagel from an array of talented but flawed candidates.

              Carter, while respected for his intellect and management skills, was at times acerbic and condescending, according to a pair of senior officials who have worked with him. Privately, some senior Pentagon civilians have told the two officials that they would quit if Carter became defense secretary.

              A former administration official said that Carter had also alienated members of Obama's close-knit inner circle -- the very people pushing for Hagel's ouster and charged with finding his successor -- by openly expressing his displeasure at being passed over when then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced his resignation in 2012. One of those key players is National Security Advisor Susan Rice, and Carter could quickly find himself at odds with the strong-willed Obama confidante.

              Carter might still get the job, but two former senior administration officials said that they expected the administration to broaden their search to also include Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James, Army Secretary John McHugh, and Navy Secretary Ray Mabus.

              All would come with clear pluses and minuses. James would, like Flournoy, be the first woman in the post, but she hasn't been in her current job long and isn't widely known in Washington or in foreign capitals. McHugh is personally close to the president and well-respected in the Pentagon, but tapping the former GOP congressman would mean that three of Obama's four secretaries of defense were Republicans.

              Mabus, an avuncular former governor of Mississippi and ambassador to Saudi Arabia, campaigned for Obama in 2008 and was one of the then-senator's senior Middle East advisors. Obama later tapped him to run the Gulf Coast restoration efforts after the BP oil spill. But with his tenure at the Navy focused largely on cost-cutting, Mabus would not bring the expertise in counterterrorism and war-fighting that Obama might want in the man or woman charged with heading the fight against the Islamic State.

              Flournoy and Carter were both vetted for the top Pentagon job the last time around, in December 2012, before Obama offered the position to Hagel. Several U.S. officials closely involved in working with Hagel favored Flournoy and were surprised to learn that she had withdrawn herself from consideration. These officials said it was unclear if the White House had prepared and cleared a list of potential replacements before Hagel resigned, raising the possibility that if new candidates other than Carter and Flournoy had to be vetted and cleared through Congress, the process could drag on for months. That would leave Hagel in the uncomfortable position of having to manage affairs without the confidence of the president and his aides.

              Gopal Ratnam contributed to this report.
              To be Truly ignorant, Man requires an Education - Plato