Flournoy tipped to replace Hagel
Michele Flournoy, formerly the Pentagon's policy chief and among President Barack Obama's more hawkish advisers, could be in line to become the first woman to lead the US military after Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel's resignation.
Hagel, a former Republican senator, who has been in the job for less than two years, was chosen to oversee a shift to a peacetime military with smaller defense budgets, but found the United States at war again.
Rapid advances by Islamic State jihadists in Syria and Iraq forced the Pentagon chief into managing a complex campaign, and Obama concluded Hagel was not the man for the task.
At the White House, Obama said Hagel would stay on until the Senate confirms a successor. No timeframe for the transition was given.
Passed over by Obama for the job 20 months ago, Flournoy now heads a short list of candidates to direct the war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and help Afghanistan fight the Taliban insurgency.
Other contenders include Ashton Carter, until last year the Pentagon's No 2-ranked official, and Robert Work, Hagel's current deputy.
Sen Jack Reed isn't interested in the job, a spokesman said Monday. Obama had mentioned Reed on Monday as he recounted a 2008 trip to Afghanistan with the Rhode Island Democrat and Hagel, then a Republican senator from Nebraska.
Flournoy, among the most senior female officials in Pentagon history, has a long history with Obama. After winning the 2008 election, President-elect Obama asked her to co-lead his transition team at the Defense Department. She then kept a relatively low profile as undersecretary of defense for policy, engaged in efforts to end the war in Iraq, reinvigorate the military campaign in Afghanistan and redesign US defense strategy to deal with severe budget cuts.
Always loyal to the president publicly, Flournoy often played the role of principled objector in closed-doors meetings, differing on matters such as the size and scope of the Afghan surge with Vice President Joe Biden and Tom Donilon, Obama's former national security adviser. Her suggestions were often more muscular in approach than those Obama authorized.
And when Defense Secretary Leon Panetta stepped down after Obama's re-election, she was among those mentioned for the post. Obama opted for Hagel, however. Flournoy would likely have a relatively easy confirmation in the new Republican-led Senate.
In Afghanistan, where she has been credited with helping strengthen the national army, Flournoy has urged a slower withdrawal strategy — a policy Obama appears now to be adopting with his recent authorization of a wider US military role in the country next year.