Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s decision to resign Monday has produced plenty of speculation about his successor and the circumstances that led to his sudden announcement.
Military experts, however, agree that the drawdown culture that Hagel was expected to bring to the Pentagon has fallen by the wayside with emerging threats like the Islamic State and Russia. Hagel’s successor, they say, will likely fight the budgetary constraints brought on by sequestration in 2013.
“Dealing with ISIL is certainly up near the top of the list, but I would say so is the FY 2016 budget,” said Jim Thomas, vice president and director of studies at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, on the Federal Drive with Tom Temin.
“What we need for the country’s sake is a grand compromise to put our nation’s fiscal house in order, which means you’ve got to deal with military and domestic entitlements. You’ve got to deal with revenues and the tax base and you’ve got to deal with reducing spending — and you do it over a 10-year period. That’s not on the horizon anywhere, so the most we can hope for is another probably two- year deal,” said retired Maj. Gen. Arnold Punaro, CEO of the Punaro Group and chairman of the National Defense Industrial Association, in an In Depth interview with Francis Rose.
Thomas said Hagel was brought in to manage a pared-down military, with fewer overseas conflicts and a reduced budget under the 2013 sequester. He said the White House could be looking in a different direction.
“Chuck Hagel came in and was supposed to be a post-war secretary of defense, but the world obviously changed dramatically over the last two years since the time that he was nominated,” Thomas said.
Punaro said in the past two years, the military has had to deal with new threats using less money.
“One, the world is more unstable. Two, it’s more unpredictable and dangerous. Three, we have less resources and money to deal with that. And four, there’s less of a consensus on how to deal with all of the three challenges that I mentioned above,” Punaro said.
Early reports of Hagel’s departure from the Pentagon suggested that President Barack Obama had forced his resignation. Thomas said the decision could have been mutual, and that time will tell about Hagel’s brief legacy at the Defense Department.
“There’s no signal of a major policy shift as there was when [Donald] Rumsfeld exited the Pentagon,” Thomas said. He had an almost impossible job, trying to develop strategy amidst fiscal uncertainty and dealing with multiple overseas crises simultaneously.”
DoD secretary candidates include current Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work and former Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter.
Michele Flournoy, former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy and founder/CEO of the Center for a New American Security think tank, dropped out of the race for DoD secretary on Tuesday after telling the CNAS board of the directors that she would stay on as the group’s CEO, according to a Foreign Policy report. Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), another rumored candidate, has also announced that he does not want the job.
While praising Work for a job well done, Punaro said he’s not sure that he’d be right as secretary of defense.
“Bob Work is doing a truly exceptional job as the chief operating officer of the Pentagon,” Punaro said. “Secretary Hagel and Secretary Work divvied up the responsibilities: The secretary of defense should be the external face of the department. The secretary of defense ought to be focusing on current operations, ought to be focusing on the threats, the Congress, foreign governments; and the deputy ought to be focusing on being Mr. or Mrs. Inside, focusing on budget, programs and acquisition. The secretary leads, and the deputy manages. The secretary sets the vision, and the deputy make sure it works. That’s the right division of labor.”
Work, he said, is adept at working the inside responsibilities at the Pentagon, and suggested the President should be looking at someone who can handle the external side of the Defense Department.