First, notwithstanding Hagel’s prior management experience in the private sector, the USO and the Veteran’s Administration, it is clear that what the administration really wanted was a Republican who would preside over declining defense spending to provide political cover. Who better for the task than a decorated combat veteran like Hagel who was also a former Senator and government and business executive? As quickly became apparent, however, the White House showed stunningly bad political judgment in expecting Hagel—right as he may have been to be skeptical of the war in Iraq and a potential war with Iran—to win easy confirmation. Democrats thought Hagel was a Republican, but (rather unfairly) many Republicans did not.
Second, while it is probably true that new leadership is necessary in the fight against ISIL, the problem seems to be less with the Pentagon’s civilian head but with the commander-in-chief and his close advisors. Few appear to remember that Mr. Obama himself earlier admitted precisely what Hagel was later reportedly complaining about in a memo to National Security Advisor Susan Rice: that the administration did not have a strategy to deal with ISIL. While the administration did develop plans in the intervening period, Hagel was frustrated by enduring and inherent inconsistencies in the White House plan to fight ISIL and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad at the same time. Thus the same president who said “I came to admire his courage and his judgment, his willingness to speak his mind” in appointing Hagel seemed rather less welcoming of Hagel’s real-world dissent.
Third, the White House has been utterly graceless in its treatment of a man who willingly subjected himself to the nastiest side of American politics in no small part to help President Obama and his administration politically.