Chuck Hagel has just become the 9th of 24 secretaries of defense to have been fired or forced to resign. Once again, the job has proved nearly impossible. And the cause appears to be a disagreement with the White House rather than poor management of the defense department.
I have no strong sense of Hagel's performance. He seemed competent and workmanlike, achieving neither dramatic successes nor failures. But obviously something went wrong, either a personality clash with somebody in the White House, or a fundamental policy disagreement.
It should have been apparent in late October, when the NY Times reported that he had sent a memo to Susan Rice criticizing unresolved issues in U.S. policy toward Syria and Iraq. Then there were stories about personnel changes that I should have taken more seriously.
By contrast, in the 225 years we've had a secretary of state, only two have been fired: Timothy Pickering in 1800 and Al Haig in 1982. Some of the others had strained relations with their president, but no overt ouster as we have seen so often with secretaries of defense.