The Chuck Hagel Choice for Secretary of Defense and Its Opportunities

First, thanks to Kevin Baron, of Foreign Policy Magazine for these “Hagelisms” quotes:

“There will be no victory or defeat for the United States in Iraq.”

“The worst thing we can do, the most dangerous thing we can do is continue to isolate nations, is to continue to not engage nations. Great powers engage.”

“There is no glory in war, only suffering.”

“We must avoid the traps of hubris and imperial temptation that comes with great power.”


With these quotes as a context, it seems that Obama’s choice is one that is interesting since it must assume that there is a serious meeting of the minds between the President and Senator Hagel on our strategic goals and on necessary resources and priorities or he would not have been given this position.

One can assume that Hagel will start with a strong disposition towards caution and care in initiating American armed forces into a conflict or war. He will be in charge immediately in overseeing in the draw down of our forces in Afghanistan and will provide a new set of eyes to the “end game” in assessing the options and outcome of both the withdrawal and remaining troops in the country.  He will also be providing his own views on all of this directly to the President and assessing the options which our commanders in the field will soon be providing.

The other key decision will be how to deal with immediate budget issues which DOD will be faced with on the budget front. The key challenges will be the sequestration impact and dealing with the impact of the existing Continuing Resolution (CR) for FY-2012 and final FY-2013 budget appropriations. None of these will be easy issues as the Congress seems to love its “candy” for the defense industries even thought most of the money goes to just three key states. (And you know who lines the campaign pockets of Republican and even some Democratic backers of larger bloated military contracts!)  Time and time again Congress has tried to force on DOD expensive and largely useless defense systems that are not needed and are eating away at defense needs that are real and key to current and future threats rather than war fighting during the Cold War. Most experts agree that a more trim and “mean and lean”and mobile force configuration is the way to go.

There are key security issues that also must be confronted by Obama/Hagel/Kerry and include, as this blog has noted, Iran’s nuclear weapons, the creation of peace in the Middle East with an Israeli-Palestinian agreement of two states, the addressing the horror and the consequences of the conflict in Syria, the problem of terrorism in Africa, the danger of a nuclear North Korea, and not the least, the Pakistan-India-Afghanistan regional conundrum.

Further Hagel and Kerry need to add their views on dealing constructively with Russia a nuclear armed power, that may be descending into an ever darker night of authoritarianism, and the “rise” of a China that must decide if indeed it will be a “peaceful rise” and how we can support that approach. Rethinking is needed on how to bolster the U.S. and international institutions of peacekeeping/peacemaking and conflict prevention which have been permitted with wither and atrophy.

Clearly finally, our budget and strategic posture needs a deeper “rethinking” and one can hope that Hagel and others will contribute to it along with President Obama now that we are finished with a war in Iraq and winding down the other in Afghanistan, and our experts and officials can start looking afresh at the longer-term challenges, not least I might add for macro national security, climate change’s impact and inter-communal/ethnic antagonisms.

2 thoughts on “The Chuck Hagel Choice for Secretary of Defense and Its Opportunities

  1. Bob Lamoree January 9, 2013 / 9:55 AM

    ‘Rethinking’ anything presents two opportunities — either to improve a situation or come to the wrong conclusions and make it worse. In his book “The Age of the Unthinkable” author Joshua Cooper Ramo suggests our policy makers need to think outside-of-the-box . . . literally to think intuitively and to rely less deductive thinking. In today’s world the need is to think ahead . . . to act and not react.
    In the eye-opening book “The Generals” author Thomas E. Ricks takes ‘rethinking’ several steps further. Citing George Marshall as the model, Ricks details the decline in ‘generalship’ since WWII. Other than performance and accountability, he argues that too many leaders (generals) fail to grasp the larger picture of war. They understand battle, but they fail in dealing with the defeated and in what is required to make a lasting peace. In failed generalship, the cost in dollars and lives is beyond measure.
    ‘Rethinking’ sounds good . . . could be good . . . but can it really be accomplished. God knows Ike had it right when he warned us of the military industrial complex. If Chuck Hagel can actually ‘rethink’ and restructure the Dept. of Defense, the debt of gratitude this nation will owe him is beyond calculation.

    • Harry C. Blaney III January 23, 2013 / 4:11 PM

      There will soon be a major debate about our security/foreign policies soming from these nominations since both Sen, Kerry and Sen. Hagel will be before the Senate for their confirmation hearings. Hagel may present the most interesting newe elements, but remember he MUST tow the line of Obama’s views and policies, and they have both talked about that before he was named. So we will continue in this blog to look at any changes that take place and try to examine their implications and if they can be effective. Key issues for both will be Afghanistan, Iran, Middle East/Arab Spring and Russia and China.

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