Hagel Delays Asia Trip, Pentagon Downplays White House Tension

The Pentagon on Tuesday pushed back against reports that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is at odds with President Obama’s Syria strategy after several news outlets, including The Hill, reported that Hagel authored a critical memo of the current US strategy in the country. The Pentagon also announced Tuesday Hagel was cancelling his upcoming trip to Asia, and held a White House meeting, prompting questions from Pentagon reporters as to whether he was out of favor with the White House. Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby said Hagel enjoys a “close relationship with the President and the national security staff” and that he visits the White House every Tuesday to meet with the President. Hagel was to visit Vietnam and Burma later this month—a trip Kirby said was “long planned”— but DOD decided to postpone it due to schedule demands. Kirby said Hagel must be available to prepare for several upcoming congressional hearings, though he declined to speculate on potential changes in the new Congress, adding only that Hagel has a “good relationship” with the Hill and believes his relationship with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is “productive.” McCain is widely expected to assume chairmanship of the Senate Armed Services Committee, should the Republicans gain control of the Senate. (Kirby transcript.)