from Politics, Power, and Preventive Action and Center for Preventive Action

Why Secretary Chuck Hagel Resigned

November 25, 2014

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Blog posts represent the views of CFR fellows and staff and not those of CFR, which takes no institutional positions.

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Gopal Ratnam, “Picking Up the Pieces at the Pentagon,”, November 25, 2014.

Although the White House portrayed Hagel’s departure as a usual cabinet change post a midterm election that resulted in Democrats losing their Senate majority, unnamed administration officials have said that Hagel wasn’t up to the task of leading the fight against the militant group also known as ISIS and ISIL that now controls broad parts of Iraq and Syria

Sen. John McCain…stated that the Defense chief "was frustrated with aspects of the administration’s national security policy and decision-making process," as well as "excessive micro-management" on the part of the White House...

Phil Stewart and Steve Holland, “Hagel, under pressure, resigns as U.S. defense secretary,” Reuters, November 25, 2014.

He had privately expressed frustration to colleagues at the administration’s strategy toward Iraq and Syria and at his lack of influence over the decision-making process, a source familiar with the situation said. Officials said publicly the decision for him to leave was mutual but privately others said he was forced out. "There’s no question he was fired," said one source with knowledge of the matter...

Shane Harris and Tim Mak, “Hagel Takes a Bullet for Obama: Inside the Defense Secretary’s Sudden Firing,” Daily Beast, November 24, 2014.

“Despite being a yes-man for his first year in the administration, he had begun to push back against the president’s defense policies,” a senior aide to a Republican senator who opposed Hagel’s nomination told The Daily Beast. “When your party loses an election, there are consequences—he’s a scapegoat, [and targeted] because he was beginning to push back against what the president was doing at the Department of Defense.”...

Julian E. Barnes, Carol E. Lee, and Adam Entous, “Chuck Hagel Steps Down as Defense Secretary,” Wall Street Journal, November 24, 2014.

Four months into an air war against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, Messrs. Obama and Hagel agreed “another secretary might be better suited to meet those challenges,” said Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary…

In the halls of the Pentagon, officials have been uncomfortable with what they see as the slow speed of decision-making by the White House National Security Council that left allies and adversaries unclear of U.S. aims.

Inside the West Wing, officials had little trust they were getting the most creative solutions from Mr. Hagel’s Pentagon to the deepening problem of the rise of Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. “They didn’t feel they were getting the options they were asking for,” said a senior U.S. official. The White House, according to officials, wanted new and innovative options for fighting Islamic State militants but heard from Mr. Hagel proposals to put military advisers closer to the front lines, options Mr. Obama found distasteful.

Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary who speaks for Mr. Hagel, said he and the president agreed that the defense secretary had accomplished much of what he set out to do. Both “agreed that new leadership was needed to implement, to execute those changes,” Adm. Kirby said. “It’s not that Secretary Hagel is incapable or unwilling to do it. But he will have done two years and both men agreed that was about the right amount of time.”...

Greg Jaffe and Rajiv Chandrasekaran, “White House seeks a stronger hand at Pentagon to manage crises,” Washington Post, November 24, 2014.

“I could never tell what his opinion was on anything,” said a senior administration official involved in national security policy. “He’d never speak…The key comment, the insightful approach—that never came out of him.”…

Philip Ewing and Jennifer Epstein, “Chuck Hagel’s resignation underscores defense rifts,” Politico, November 24, 2014.

A senior defense official acknowledged to POLITICO that there had been policy differences between Hagel and National Security Adviser Susan Rice but said no single disagreement had prompted Hagel’s departure. “Did he and Rice agree on everything? No — but that’s normal, that’s healthy. This is not about him vs. Susan Rice,” the official said. “The secretary is not resigning in protest.”

Specifically, Hagel had grown frustrated with Obama’s unwillingness to mount a serious push on behalf of defense spending, one Senate aide said, as well as other priorities for the Pentagon.

Hagel has been pushing back on the administration in regards to the defense budget and some of the defense policy, and that’s kind of what led to this,” the aide said. “He started to no longer be a yes-man.”...

Mark Landler, “News Analysis: A Shake-Up Stops at One,” New York Times, November 24, 2014.

Mr. Hagel’s problems, these officials said, were not rooted in White House micromanagement but in his own discomfort with the nature of the job. The memo on Syria policy, some note, surfaced around the time that Mr. Hagel began discussing his future with the president...

Jim Miklaszewski, “’Greatest Privilege of My Life’: Chuck Hagel Resigns as Defense Secretary,” NBC, November 24, 2014.

Multiple sources also said that Hagel was originally brought to the job to wind down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but, as the fight against the Islamic State ramped up, he was not as well matched for the post. "Rather than winding down two wars, we’re winding up,” said one source close to Hagel and top Pentagon officials...

Helene Cooper, “Hagel Resigns Under Pressure as Global Crises Test Pentagon,” New York Times, November 24, 2014.

Aides said Mr. Obama made the decision to remove his defense secretary on Friday after weeks of rising tension over a variety of issues, including what administration officials said were Mr. Hagel’s delays in transferring detainees from the military prison in Guantánamo Bay and a dispute with Susan E. Rice, the national security adviser, over Syria policy.

The president is “too close to Susan Rice, and John Kerry’s in the middle of Iran negotiations,” said one administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity. “So he went for the low-hanging fruit” — Mr. Hagel, who was criticized by White House aides as largely silent in meetings, and who Mr. Obama had often bypassed in recent months for Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a favorite in the West Wing...

John Cassidy, “Hagel’s Resignation Raises Questions About Obama’s Judgment,” New Yorker, November 24, 2014.

The White House tried to put a more favorable spin on Hagel’s departure, suggesting that his resignation was decided mutually by him and the President—a claim that contradicts recent statements by Hagel’s aides, who said that he intended to serve a full four years, according to the Times...

W.J. Hennigan and Christi Parsons, “Hagel’s exit from Pentagon still leaves administration divided,” Los Angeles Times, November 24, 2014.

Administration officials acknowledged that the president was ready for Hagel to move on so he could name someone else to lead the Pentagon. But White House aides denied that Hagel and Obama no longer see eye-to-eye about important matters of foreign policy. Obama did not pressure Hagel to leave because of the memo, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said. The two men “arrived together at the determination” that someone else would be “better suited” to lead the Pentagon, Earnest said…

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