White House seeks a stronger hand at Pentagon to manage crises
President Obama tapped Chuck Hagel as defense secretary because he wanted someone who would quietly implement the administration’s policy, avoid controversy and promote no big, sweeping ideas.
Hagel was forced to resign Monday for being exactly that defense secretary.
Hagel didn’t make big mistakes. Nor had he lost the confidence of the uniformed military. But he often seemed lost or overly deferential to his generals in top-level White House strategy meetings, especially those focused on the battle against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, senior administration officials said.
“I could never tell what his opinion was on anything,” said a senior administration official involved in national security policy. “He’d never speak. . . . The key comment, the insightful approach — that never came out of him.”
Instead, Hagel worked behind the scenes to lessen the impact of budget cuts on the military’s ability to fight future wars and on the families of those in uniform. Obama praised Hagel on Monday for pushing to make sure that troops received pay raises and the housing, health care and child care they needed.