So Chuck Hagel “resigned” from his post as Defense Secretary this morning:
Administration officials said that Mr. Obama made the decision to remove Mr. Hagel, the sole Republican on his national security team, last Friday after a series of meetings between the two men over the past two weeks.
Hagel was reportedly dumped because of “concerns that he wasn’t up to the job of leading the Pentagon during its escalating war with the Islamic State.” I don’t know if that’s the real reason, but even so it’s still a somewhat odd decision to get rid of him at this point. The war against ISIS is going poorly because the policy itself is flawed. Replacing Hagel isn’t going to change the fact that U.S. bombing in Syria is driving anti-regime Syrians into making truces with ISIS and in some cases even joining up with the jihadists. Nor is a new Defense Secretary going to be in a better position to achieve the war’s unrealistic goal of “destroying” ISIS. Perhaps Hagel was not interested in being responsible for overseeing an ever-expanding, open-ended war for the next two years.
If a change had to be made at Defense, this is still not very good timing for the administration. Removing Hagel sets up another confirmation battle in the new year with a hostile Republican Senate majority that is already intent on causing the White House as much discomfort as possible on national security and foreign policy issues. While the confirmation hearings for Hagel’s successor can’t be as contentious and ugly as Hagel’s were, that’s not saying much. Whoever ends up accepting Obama’s offer will face a thoroughly unpleasant confirmation process as the Republican members of the relevant committees use the nominee as a punching bag to score points against Obama’s policies. Since the next nominee will probably be a Democrat this time, that makes it more likely that the process will be a fairly difficult one.