U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel handed in his resignation to President Barack Obama on Monday, and the two then announced it officially to the media.
The announcement followed pressure from the top and an extended, failed attempt to break through a presidential team of national security advisers.
In a formal ceremony at the White House, Obama said the decision had been a mutual one with both deciding this was an “appropriate time for him to complete his service.”
Obama noted that Hagel was the first enlisted combat veteran to lead the Department of Defense. “He stood where his soldiers stood,” Obama pointed out. “He sees himself in them. They see themselves in him.”
Hagel’s departure leaves the Obama administration “defenseless” as his national security team faces the continued rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and its march towards a caliphate in the Middle East. Also ongoing is Russia’s escalating encroachment into Ukraine, and an incremental movement backwards towards another Cold War with the U.S.
Hagel, 68, is also a Republican leaving a lonely Democratic Obama administration as it faces a newly powerful Republican House of Representatives and Senate.
The two men grew close when they both served across the aisle from each other in the Senate, prior to Obama’s election as president. Hagel served as a senator from Nebraska after earning two Purple Hearts during the Vietnam War.
“Chuck Hagel has devoted himself to our national security and our men and women in uniform across six decades,” Obama said. But the president’s advisers were not nearly as happy with the defense secretary, whose loyalty they doubted and whose actions they questioned throughout his tenure.
Short-listed to replace Hagel are former deputy defense secretary Ash Carter and the current deputy, Robert Work.
Hagel has agreed to remain at his post until a successor is confirmed by the Senate. But the process may take some time, given the difficulties of finding a candidate the White House and its Republican adversaries can all agree on.