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.
Chuck Hagel on Wednesday morning was sworn in as secretary of Defense. He took the oath of office in a private ceremony at the Pentagon and immediately set to work at his new and challenging cabinet-level job, preparing an address to department employees.Skip to next paragraph
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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After a bitter seven-week confirmation fight, will this be an occasion that the Republican former senator from Nebraska treasures the rest of his life? Or will he rue the day he walked into the bureaucratic snake pit that is the E-ring?
To a certain extent, this question is rhetorical, of course. No matter how this turns out, Secretary Hagel will always have the memory of holding one of America’s most coveted political jobs. His office is palatial, his responsibilities extraordinary, his staff vast. When we covered the Pentagon, a friend who worked there would occasionally drag us out to the helipad. We’d stand there and watch the secretary of the time stride out with his military escort and then disappear in a roaring, gleaming US Marine helicopter.
“Now that,” our friend would say as the dust settled, “is American power.”
But for all the glory, it’s also probably the second most difficult job in the executive branch after the presidency itself.
As of now, Hagel is CEO of a $700 billion company. He’s just taken office, yet all his division heads, otherwise known as the “Joint Chiefs of Staff,” have spent their whole adult lives working up through the company’s ranks. He’ll never match their institutional knowledge.
He’ll immediately confront crucial billion-dollar decisions. (“Chief, what should we do about the F-35”?) The Joint Chiefs will have their own opinions on these, which they’ve had lots of time to hone. Oh, and these decisions affect thousands of jobs in congressional districts across the United States, so Congress will weigh in as well. Often.
Did we say these decisions also involve the nation’s very security? And that Hagel is in the nation’s chain of command, meaning he’s also got some responsibility for formulating policy and directing the operations of US troops now in harm’s way, wherever they are?
All this is why some SecDefs appear happy to spend time on morale-boosting visits to foreign bases, while underlings run things back in Washington.