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Chuck Hagel sworn in as Defense secretary. Will he be sorry? (+video)

The office for Chuck Hagel is palatial, his responsibilities extraordinary, his staff vast. But his job is also probably the second most difficult in the executive branch after the presidency itself.

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In addition to the weight of the job, Hagel will face a number of problems particular to him.

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Washington Editor

Peter Grier is The Christian Science Monitor's Washington editor. In this capacity, he helps direct coverage for the paper on most news events in the nation's capital.

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The 'sequester.' The big automatic budget cuts known as sequestration look almost certain to take effect Friday. That means Hagel could be grappling with a semi-crisis within days as he loses $46 billion of his budget.

The Senate. Part of the job of secretary of Defense is dealing with the House and Senate Armed Services Committees and military appropriations subcommittees. Right now, Hagel’s got problems with the Senate part of this equation. His nomination passed SASC by only 14 to 11, and his performance at his confirmation hearing was unimpressive, at best.

“He will take office with the weakest support of any Defense secretary in modern history, which will make him less effective [in] his job,” said Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the GOP’s minority whip.

Of course, a revenge-minded SecDef might find opportunity in the fact that he’s supposed to rebuild relations with people who came after him in the first place. As former Pentagon official Lawrence J. Korb writes in Foreign Policy, there are lots of ways he can get back at his GOP foes if he chooses.

He could draw up lists of bases in his adversaries' states for possible closure, cancel weapons systems that senators support, move military units out of his foes' states, and so forth.

“His choices could hurt the constituents of the very officials who have done the most to hurt him,” Mr. Korb writes.

The press. Finally, Hagel may face a media primed to cover any misstep. During his confirmation hearing, he hemmed, hawed, and occasionally misstated administration policy. Any similar mistake he makes now will be picked up and magnified.

He doesn’t even have to make them now; it might be enough to newly unearth stuff he said in the past. Witness the latest flap: A 2011 Hagel speech, in which he said India has over the years financed trouble for Pakistan from across the border in Afghanistan, has riled the Indian government.

The remark was published by the Washington Free Beacon, a muckraking conservative journal.

“Such comments attributed to Sen. Hagel ... are contrary to the reality of India’s unbounded dedication to the welfare of the Afghan people,” said a statement issued in response by the Indian Embassy in Washington.


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