US President Obama and US Defense Secretary Hagel agreed that the time is right for another person to head the Defense Department. Chuck Hagel believed the moment was propitious for submitting the resignation. Some doubt whether the story is true. For instance, the New York Times cited aides saying Mr. Obama made the decision to remove his Defense Secretary after weeks of rising tension over a variety of foreign policy issues, especially the fight against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. Some US politicians believe it’s a start of shake-up in the White House. Hagel is the second high ranking US official to resign recently. In September Attorney General Eric Holder stepped down. The both officials will remain in office until their successors are confirmed. Obama is not in a hurry to name the candidates. Hagel did not see himself as a «hawkish adviser» as his task was to end the wars and ease the burden on the military and he seemed to be doing his best to carry it out.
A former Senator from Nebraska, the Secretary was the only Republican in the administration. As a Vietnam War veteran he was respected by the military. Chuck Hagel took his office in February overcoming serious opposition in Senate. Some said he was too soft on Iran. He has refused to sign a letter asking to include Hezbollah on the list of the terrorist organizations. Hagel called the war in Iraq one of the five biggest blunders in U.S. history. He was critical of George W. Bush's foreign policy, calling it «reckless».
The Secretary supported the idea of Israel and HAMAS holding talks and made public remarks about the considerable influence of the Jewish lobby on Congress. «The Israeli people must be free to live in peace and security,» Hagel wrote in his 2008 book America; Our Next Chapter. He went on, «Similarly, the Palestinian people must also have the same right to live in peace in Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital and with the same hope for a prosperous future».
The confirmation process dragged on for four months due to filibustering, many senators and leaders of influential Jewish groups opposed the nomination. Experts warned about the possibility of conflict between Obama, as he was elected for the second term and Israeli government and predicted that a clash between the US Defense Secretary and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu was inevitable.
Hagel was put through the grinder to survive a brutal hearing with Senators. Obama helped him ride through the confirmation process. Back then the President reminded his listeners: «Chuck knows that war is not an abstraction. He understands that sending young Americans to fight and bleed in the dirt and mud, that's something we only do when it's absolutely necessary». Just recently Obama was happy about the excellent relationship that his Defense Secretary had with the military. What has changed?
Obama and Chuck Hagel had met a number of times before the resignation to discuss military planning for the following two years. According to Obama, that’s when the Secretary informed him of his plans. Former US Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton said the resignation could have been better prepared. According to him, the unexpected news does not forebode well. The ongoing shake-ups signal the need to tackle new problems. Probably the foreign policy is going to get tougher.
Speaker in the House of Representatives John Boehner said the selection of a replacement must be accompanied by a new look at US military policies. «This personnel change must be part of a larger re-thinking of our strategy to confront the threats we face abroad, especially the threat posed by the rise of ISIL», the Republican said in a statement.
True, the Hagel’s views on Ukraine and Syria were different from the rest of the administration. He criticized the US reckless policy in Iraq and Afghanistan but resignation was not on the agenda. Now Obama decided to sacrifice his Defense Secretary so that he could please those who did not like Hagel. The resignation started to loom in spring as senators blamed Hagel for his failure to predict the Russia’s actions in Crimea.
He neither supported the idea of supplying Ukraine with lethal weapons, nor did he approve the decision to deliver Humvee armored vehicles to this country. And he was right saying the action could trigger retaliation on the part of Russia. Hagel did not support the air strikes against the Islamic State as he expressed concern over the implications (meaning the tragedy of 9/11 in New York). The Defense Secretary believed that the expenditure equal to $2, 4 – 3, 8 billion yearly for fighting the Islamic State was too much. Gradually Hagel grew disillusioned with the foreign policy of the incumbent administration.
The November intermediate election was a Republicans’ big win. For the first time since 2006 the GOP gained control of both chambers. Obama said there was no shellacking, «It doesn’t make me mopey. It energizes me, because it means that this democracy’s working», he said of his party’s defeat. Whatever he says cannot hide the fact that Americans are frustrated with their President. The presidential job approval rating has plummeted to less than 50%. Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said American people were up in arms. It may be an exaggeration but the November 4 vote was viewed as a referendum that Obama lost. This is an undisputed fact. Chuck Hagel has joined the ranks of those who have lost faith in Obama. His resignation is another defeat of Obama in Congress.
Today the President’s team faces serious opposition within the Democratic Party. Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) blasted President Barack Obama in the wake of a devastating Democratic defeat in the midterm elections. «It doesn´t make sense that we have to fight so hard against our own government and our own administration and our President to try to find a balance», he said.
The Democrats called the election results «a personal defeat of Obama». The Hillary Clinton’s aides told her to keep away from the incumbent President. It means other officials may follow Hagel and resign soon. The number of Obama supporters in the administration may dwindle to unusually low numbers.