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Is it any wonder no one wants Chuck Hagel’s job?


Is it any wonder no one wants Chuck Hagel’s job?

Does anyone want Chuck Hagel’s old job? (AP Photo above /Mark Wilson, Pool)

First, Rhode Island Senator Jack Reed said ‘no’. He’s enjoying serving his constituents too much to consider leaving the Senate.

Then, former undersecretary of defence Michèle Flournoy announced she wasn’t interested either. She is committed to spending more time with her family.

Nobody, it would seem, wants to succeed the dismissed Chuck Hagel as Barack Obama’s defence secretary.

But who would want the job?

Given what Mr Hagel had to deal with, and what happened to him as a consequence, the downside of any such appointment is glaringly obvious.

Since the financial meltdown of 2008, it’s almost universally agreed that significant budget cuts are essential to restore the American economy. Cuts in military spending are an indispensable component of this because the overall share of the Armed Forces’ funding is at least 17 per cent, which is a significant part of annual government spending. Many believe that 17 per cent is a gross underestimate.

It is often said that the Pentagon is effectively the largest corporation in the United States. It is also one of America’s biggest employers, of both uniformed and civilian personnel. In such circumstances, one of the key tasks of any defence secretary is to preside over some pretty ruthless downsizing.

The pain is even greater because in this case the expenditures are public rather than private. Jobs are lost every time a base closes, a contract cancelled, or a deployment scrapped. Mr Hagel was initially brought in partly to oversee another phase in this politically damaging process.

His successor will be the fourth defence secretary to preside over the giant rollback.

As the process moves on, it becomes more difficult, and the cuts more controversial. Indeed, Mr Hagel was reportedly upset that Mr Obama did not fight harder in Congress to secure the Pentagon’s budget.

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