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Published On: Fri, Nov 28th, 2014

Hagel’s resignation gives rise to questions about the short- and long-term impact on the administration, the Pentagon and the country

After US Secretary of Defense Hagel resigned, questions started to arise regarding the reasons for his stepping down, and what the future has in store for the Pentagon, the administration and the country, until and after Hagel’s successor takes office.

Hagel’s resignation gives rise to questions about the short- and long-term impact on the administration, the Pentagon and the country.

After weeks of rumors about the upcoming departure of US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, the resignation is a fact. What is uncertain is whether he resigned owing to his own decision, or it was a forced step after the short period of service. There could be political gains in the short-term after the resignation, but the long-term prospects for either the Obama administration, or the Pentagon are not good, and the country is not to benefit, either.

The reasons for Hagel’s exit are intertwined. One of them is the need for a high-ranking scapegoat for the surge of the Islamic State in Syria. The disjointed US response to the threat is something that needs to be noted as well. Further on, the White House assumed more and more control over foreign policy decisions, and Hagel’s influence started to shrink.

There are suggestions that US Secretary of Defense was seen as not having the right set of skills to deal with the threat posed by Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. It should be kept in mind, however, that he has ample combat experience on the ground, having been in the infantry in the Vietnam War and having received several distinctions.

In addition, Chuck Hagel is well aware of the country’s national security and foreign policy. In his two terms as Nebraska senator, his astuteness regarding foreign policy was obvious, especially concerning Afghanistan and the Middle East.

Also among Hagel’s achievements was the summoning to the Pentagon of massive management expertise. In the private and the public sector he founded a successful cellphone company, and was the deputy administrator of the Veterans Administration.

Hagel’s inability to cope with the problems posed before the Pentagon can hardly be a plausible reason. In fact, unlike some of his predecessors, he made adjustments to the military budget, in view of spending necessitated by sequestration; then he addressed sexual violence and suicides in the military ranks; he was the one who started the overhauling of a dysfunctional nuclear weapons complex. The list of his actions can be continued with the management of US troops drawdown in Afghanistan, and with the drawing up of a set of rules of American troops conduct.

It is also speculated how much impact the next defense secretary can have. The confirmation of Hagel’s successor is to happen sometime next year. Meanwhile, the confused approach of the Obama administration to Islamic State extremists, the Kurds, Iraq and Syria is to continue.

By the time the next Secretary of Defense takes office, the Pentagon’s budget for the fiscal year 2016 will be drafted, possibly sent to Congress too. The new Secretary will be able to impact the defense budget for the fiscal year 2017. It is not certain who the US President will be at this point.

Regarding the managerial front, the new Secretary will not be able to bring his people into the running of the Pentagon; thus there is little hope for reforming the Defense Department’s stance on sexual assault or for acquisitions improvement.

None of the rumored candidates for the post have the experience and managerial and political skills on a par with Hagel’s. There is also the risk for candidates of leaving their jobs for a less than two years’ tenure riddled with tough confirmation hearing and other difficulties. Then the 2016 presidential election campaign will be in its height; and the  term for the new Secretary’s impact on the Pentagon and on the national security policy will be small.

Let Americans hope Obama factored in the above consideration prior to asking Hagel to resign.

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