Chuck Hagel is out as secretary of Defense, according to news reports Monday morning. He’s resigning under pressure, or in other words, getting fired with a bit of dignity.
But just a bit. Secretary Hagel’s relatively short tenure at the Pentagon implies that he never really fit in with the White House and its vision for national security. A nominal Republican, a former US senator from Nebraska, and an Army enlisted man, Hagel struggled during his confirmation hearings in the face of tough questions from GOP lawmakers such as Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona. For example, he managed to avoid offering a direct answer as to whether he believed the “surge” of US troops into Iraq in 2007 was a success, but only with difficulty.
His exit with two years to go in the Obama presidency validates the questions Republicans raised about his competence at the time, say critics.
“What’s ironic in how WH apparently going after Hagel is they’re justifying resistance to his confirmation by Senate Rs,” tweeted David M. Drucker, senior congressional correspondent of the right-leaning Washington Examiner.
Brought in to preside over a drawdown of US involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, Hagel instead has dealt with the explosion of the Islamic State insurgency and the need for a renewed American effort in the region. Presumably the Obama administration has decided it needs someone with a different demeanor and focus to deal with the job of conducting that operation.
But it’s not fair to Hagel to blame him for the missteps and slow start to the current IS fight, say some commentators. He worked in an environment where the White House holds decisions closely and gathers power to itself.
“Blaming Hagel for the failures of war policy is akin to blaming George for the breakup of the Beatles,” tweeted Bloomberg View columnist Josh Rogin.
Hagel submitted his resignation on Monday and President Obama accepted it quickly, according to the Associated Press. Hagel plans to remain in office as long as it takes for the Senate to confirm his successor.
Will that be a long wait? That’s a key question, as some in the GOP are pushing for Republican senators to block all administration nominations in the wake of Obama’s announcement of unilateral action deferring deportation of up to 5 million undocumented immigrants.
It’s possible the GOP will treat the Pentagon post a bit differently than others. Sen. Ted Cruz (R) of Texas said as much over the weekend, indicating that key national security positions won’t face a hold on nominations.