The Obama administration is apparently throwing Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel under the bus. Just weeks after a midterm season that was unusual for its relatively strong focus on national security, and in which Democrats suffered bruising election returns, this move will eliminate the last Republican from the president's national security staff. The move has come as something of a surprise since Hagel and his aides have maintained that he intended to continue serving in his role until 2016.
While rumors of a possible Hagel departure have circulated previously, Pentagon sources have confirmed to VICE News that scheduled internal meetings with the secretary of defense are being removed from planning calendars.
The New York Times article that broke this story focused on three possible replacements: Michele Flournoy, Ashton Carter, and Senator Jack Reed. Michelle Flournoy was a former undersecretary of defense in this administration, and has a dedicated and vocal fan base. She worked closely with current Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), a left-leaning security think tank. Before Bob Work replaced Ashton Carter as deputy secretary of defense in February, Carter had served in the post for two years and had been involved in a number of efforts to streamline procurement and acquisitions during his tenure.
Mention of Sen. Reed comes as something of a surprise because he turned down the job when Obama offered it to him in 2010, following the retirement of Robert Gates. Over the years, his name was put forward as a possible Obama running mate in 2008, as a potential secretary of defense in 2012, and as director of the CIA in 2012. In each case, Reed denied interest in the job.
The timing of the announcement is a bit odd considering that earlier this month — while Hagel was reportedly negotiating his exit with the president — Hagel announced the start of the Defense Innovation Initiative, which was part of a broader Pentagon-wide approach to responding to a changing security environment. This effort, which was an element of what is being called the "Third Offset Strategy," was the brainchild of Bob Work and his colleagues at CNAS. If Michele Flournoy is nominated and confirmed, that will almost certainly lock the Pentagon into this approach over the final two years of this administration.
Obama is delivering remarks on Hagel's resignation this morning, in which he will likely explain that Hagel isn't being fired but that the security environment has changed and will require a different skillset in the Pentagon. As a rare anti-Iraq War Republican, Hagel was brought on to oversee the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq and Afghanistan, but his handling of a wide array of international crises around the world, including those that have arisen in the wake of the president's push to withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan, were likely a significant factor in the decision to push him out.
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Photo via Department of Defense