It was the first major change to Obama's Cabinet since his
Democrats were routed in midterm elections three weeks ago, and
Republicans, who now control both houses of Congress, are looking
for a new approach from the White house.
Hagel was appointed less than two years ago as Obama pushed his
signature program of winding down wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, a
process now being upended with U.S. re-engagement in Iraq and
greater military cooperation with Kabul.
He had privately expressed frustration to colleagues at the
administrationís strategy toward Iraq and Syria and at his lack of
influence over the decision-making process, a source familiar with
the situation said.
Officials said publicly the decision for him to leave was mutual but
privately others said he was forced out. "Thereís no question he was
fired," said one source with knowledge of the matter.
Hagel raised questions about Obama's strategy toward Syria in an
internal policy memo that leaked this fall saying the president's
policy was in jeopardy due to its failure to clarify its intentions
toward Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Obama has insisted the United States can go after Islamic State
militants without addressing Assad, who the United States would like
to leave power.
REPUBLICANS DEMAND CHANGE OF APPROACH
House Republican Speaker John Boehner said the change at the
Pentagon "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 (Islamic State)."
Senator John McCain, who is expected to become chairman of the
Senate Armed Services Committee which will vet the new nominee,
called for changes in Obama's defense policies.
McCain, a fierce critic of the president, told Reuters Hagel had
been "very unhappy" about micro-management from the White House and
did not believe that Washington had a strategy to combat Islamic
Hagel will remain as Defense Secretary until his replacement is
confirmed by the Senate. Congressional sources said it was almost
certain that would not happen until after January, when Republicans
take over and will control the confirmation process.
A Vietnam War veteran and longtime Republican senator, Hagel, 68,
had been criticized by some for failing to clearly articulate
policy, including during his confirmation hearing nearly two years
He submitted his resignation letter after lengthy discussions with
Obama that began in October, officials said.
Obama praised Hagel at a White House event called to announce his
departure, saying he had always been candid with his advice and had
"always given it to me straight".
Officials said Obama wanted fresh leadership during the final two
years of his administration.
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White House spokesman Josh Earnest said that when Hagel was
appointed, the focus for the defense department was sorting out its
budget and Islamic State was not an issue. Fighting the group would
be the top priority for his successor, he said.
Top potential candidates to replace Hagel include Michele Flournoy,
a former under secretary of defense, and Ashton Carter, a former
deputy secretary of defense, who were rumored to be contenders for
Hagel's job before he was named.
Hagel, who was the only enlisted combat veteran to serve as defense
secretary, ran into a wave of opposition when Obama, a Democrat,
Republicans objected partly because Hagel opposed the 2007 'surge'
of troops in the Iraq war, which eventually helped defeat al Qaeda
and other militants and opened the way for a U.S. troop withdrawal.
He was seen as poorly prepared and hesitant during his confirmation
hearing, including refusing to answer 'yes' or 'no' when McCain
demanded he judge whether he was wrong to oppose the surge strategy.
Hagel, who became an outspoken critic of the administration of
President George W. Bush, had also upset many in his party by
endorsing Obama in his presidential race against Republican Senator
John McCain in 2008.
Defense analyst Loren Thompson said Obama had seen Hagel as someone
who could build bridges to the Republican Party, particularly in
disputes over the massive defense budget, but Hagelís ties were not
in fact strong to begin with.
"What they need is a focused person who can clearly communicate with
Capitol Hill on the need to loosen budget caps" that were damaging
the military's ability to function, Thompson said. "Hagel seemed
like he would appeal to both sides, but he wound up alienating
Republicans and angering Democrats."
(Reporting by Phil Stewart, Steve Holland and Patricia Zengerle;
Writing by David Storey; Editing by James Dalgleish)
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