McCain: 'Hagel was very, very frustrated'

Getty Images

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said Monday that outgoing Defense Secretary Chuck HagelChuck HagelCreating a future for vets in DC Republicans back Clinton, but will she put them in Pentagon? There's still time for another third-party option MORE was "very, very frustrated" as a member of the Obama Cabinet.

"Already the White House people are leaking, 'Well he wasn't up to the job.' Believe me, he was up to the job," McCain said during a local news radio interview shortly after news broke that Hagel was being forced to resign.

"It was a job he was given where he never was really brought in to that real tight circle inside the White House that makes all the decisions, which has put us in the incredible debacle that we're in today throughout the world, so I thank Chuck Hagel for his service and I know that he was very, very frustrated," McCain said, adding that he spoke with Hagel Monday morning.

In a statement issued after the interview, McCain said, "I know that Chuck was frustrated with aspects of the Administration's national security policy and decision-making process. His predecessors have spoken about the excessive micro-management they faced from the White House and how that made it more difficult to do their jobs successfully. Chuck's situation was no different."

Hagel's predecessors, Leon Panetta and Robert Gates, both wrote books that contained criticism of the Obama administration's micromanagement of national security issues.

"They're going to say, 'Well, it was time for a change,' and all that, but I can tell you, he was in my office last week, and he was very frustrated. We have no strategy to combat ISIS, we have no way of helping the Ukrainians, we refuse to give them weapons to defend themselves, we watch the turmoil in the Far East with the Chinese asserting themselves, we see a lack of U.S. influence ... unknown in history," McCain said in the radio interview.

McCain, a fierce critic of the administration's foreign policy, did not clarify whether those were specific concerns of Hagel's, but said in his statement that the two agreed on many issues.

“Chuck and I have worked well together, and we have often seen eye to eye on our biggest national security challenges — ISIS, the conflict in Syria, the war in Afghanistan, a rising China, and most of all, sequestration," McCain said in the statement. 

McCain also said during the radio interview that the Senate Armed Services Committee would be "carefully scrutinizing the nominee" to replace Hagel. McCain will become chairman of that panel in January.

"One thing we'll be demanding is a strategy in order to combat ISIS which is now a direct threat to the United States of America," he said.

McCain and Hagel, who served together in the Senate, were also combat veterans who both fought in the Vietnam War.

“Secretary Chuck Hagel and I have had our differences over many years, but I have always considered him a friend, a patriot, and a dedicated public servant who has always put our country first and the needs of our men and women in uniform above his own," McCain said in his statement.

“I hope the President will nominate a secretary of defense with the strength of character, judgment, and independence that Bob Gates, Leon Panetta, and Chuck Hagel all exhibited at their best. But ultimately, the President needs to realize that the real source of his current failures on national security more often lie with his Administration's misguided policies and the role played by his White House in devising and implementing them. That is the real change we need right now," he added.