On November 24 2014 Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced that he would be stepping down from his position managing the Department of Defense. It was only in January 2013 that President Obama nominated Hagel for Secretary of Defense. His tenure of service lasting just under two years was full of difficult decisions including a call to drastically reduce the current military budget, paralleled by a call for a strong response to ISIS in Syria and Iraq as well as Russia in Ukraine. Hagel is the first senior Obama advisor to step down after the recent midterm elections, which could signal a change for the overall governance of the U.S. and more specifically the direction of America’s defense policy.
Hagel’s announcement has generated rumour regarding his willingness to step down or whether he was forced out due to speculated disagreements with White House administration over foreign policy positions. Many are now voicing their doubts about whether Hagel was ever qualified to have been in the position in the first place. Sen. John McCain has stated, “Nothing in Sen. Hagel’s background indicates that he would effectively manage the Department of Defense.” Amongst his alleged failures the biggest have included failing to take control of the Afghanistan position against the Taliban, deterring an Egyptian coup, failing to take an aggressive stance to halt the rise of ISIS, and contributing little or nothing in the effort to deter Russia’s advance in the Ukraine. Overall Hagel is accused of poorly advocating for the betterment of the U.S. Military, both within the bureaucracy and internationally.
However, whether the Republican Hagel is being forced out for his disagreements with the White House’ micromanagement or for his speculated failures, what matters most now is who will replace him. With a shift in power in Congress fast approaching this could be one of Obama’s last chances to really make a difference for America’s foreign and defense policy.
Since the announcement the short list of names suggested has thus far included Ashton Carter, Jen Johnson, Robert Work and Michele Flournoy.
Dr. Ashton Carter, a Democrat, has served as the Deputy Secretary of Defense among a variety of other roles in the Pentagon and as such boasts a deep familiarity with the department. Carter also helped to oversee the recent budget cuts.
Jen Johnson, another Democrat, is currently serving as head of the Department of Homeland Security and was also a top lawyer for the Pentagon between 2009 and 2012. He has most recently spearheaded the president’s executive action on immigration that could prove volatile once Republicans take majority in Congress. If he were also chosen for the position it would leave another void to be filled in the Department of Homeland Security.
Robert Work, is the current Deputy Secretary of Defense. He is a 27-year military veteran, has been the undersecretary of the Navy and served on President- Obama’s Department of Defense Transition Team in 2008.
As it stands for the moment, the top contenders appear to be all Democrats, which could prove difficult in the New Year with a GOP majority in Congress. Many of those involved in former administrative positions have also been a part of recent budget cuts to the Department of Defense which has proved to be a contentious issue amongst Republicans who call for a stronger response from Washington on such issues as ISIS. Needless to say the new appointment coupled with the recent midterm election results will change the direction of the government in its defense policies.