Why the Attacks on Chuck Hagel?

But first, some quotes on the reality of war: Obama, Chuck Hagel, and his opponents:

Obama in his Nobel Prize Speech:

“The instruments of war do have a role to play in preserving the peace. And yet this truth must coexist with another — that no matter how justified, war promises human tragedy. The soldier’s courage and sacrifice is full of glory, expressing devotion to country, to cause, to comrades in arms. But war itself is never glorious” — Churchill had called it that — “and we must never trumpet it as such. So part of our challenge is reconciling these two seemingly irreconcilable truths — that war is sometimes necessary and war at some level is an expression of human folly.”

Bob Woodward in his Washington Post article remarked that “[this quote] is probably the best definition of the Obama doctrine on war. Applying such a doctrine in today’s dangerous and unpredictable world will be daunting — but on these issues Obama seems to have found a soul mate [in Chuck Hagel].”

Chuck Hagel to President Obama in 2009:

“We are at a time where there is a new world order. We don’t control it. You must question everything, every assumption, everything they” — the military and diplomats — “tell you. Any assumption 10 years old is out of date. You need to question our role. You need to question the military. You need to question what are we using the military for.”

Hagel’s Doubters:

“I fear that Hagel will be a staunch advocate for, or even accelerate, the continuation of this administration’s misguided policies… And on many of the security challenges facing U.S. interests around the world, Hagel’s record is deeply troubling. Too often, it seems, he is willing to subscribe to a worldview that is predicated on appeasing our adversaries while shunning our friends.” – Senator Jim Inhofe

“I think there will be a lot of tough questions for Sen. Hagel, but he will be treated fairly by Republicans in the Senate,” – Senator Mitch McConnell, Senate Minority Leader

According to NBC News, when Hagel left the Senate, McConnell called him “a clear voice on foreign policy and national security.”

“But I think another thing that’s going to come up is just his overall temperament, and is he suited to run a department or a big agency or a big entity like the Pentagon…There are numbers of staffers who are coming forth now just talking about the way he has dealt with them,” -Senator Bob Corker, Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee

“Typically, there’s a tension. The Defense Department presses for weaponry and making sure that our country is safe. The State Department presses for nuclear arms agreements and reductions. And so in the event this person is confirmed, that balance is not going to be there.”    – Senator Bob Corker, Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee

“I have serious concerns about positions Senator Hagel has taken on a range of critical national security issues in recent years, which we will fully consider in the course of his confirmation process before the Senate Armed Services Committee.” – Senator John McCain

Why the Attacks on Chuck Hagel?

There does not seem to be any restraint or even serious debate on the merits of many of Sen. Chuck Hagel’s past views and votes by those who are opposing his nomination as Secretary of Defense. They seem to oppose him primarily because he is the choice of President Obama and the Republican right wants to derail Obama’s second term even before it starts. This does not bode well for any hope of bipartisan cooperation on foreign policy and national security issues. This view is bolstered by recent attacks on the nomination of Jack Lew as Secretary of the Treasury for no apparent reason but to embarrass again the new administration at its start. Lew, one needs to remember, has been confirmed many times for past senior positions he has held in government.

But the Hagel confirmation “problem,” as we noted above, has many added dimensions since one of the key aims of the neo-con right is to undermine any serious rethinking of national security policy and structure that might lead to a more considered and thoughtful evaluation of our threats and priorities and trying to match them with our resources. That includes a reduction and cuts in those projects and weapon systems that are aimed at maximum profits to the military industrial industry and are the least useful in any way to the reality of the 21st century threat landscape. And again, there will be areas where additional resources are needed, but they should be justified by real American security present and future challenges rather than profit and cold war mentality.

The issues on which the right wing neo-cons are most vocal include Iran, the Israel-Palestinian conflict, the direction of the DOD budget, and especially how our strategic posture is likely to be configured in the second term. Behind some of this is the belief that Hagel will be more reluctant to urge hasty military action in place of less costly “preventive diplomacy,” which produces fewer profits for the paymasters of the GOP. But, it may mean fewer American lives lost in combat.

Both Hagel and Senator Kerry, who is on his way to being Secretary of State, have served in combat, and those who oppose Hagel and even some Kerry (but not often openly) have largely been the neo-cons who blindly sent our solders into combat in Iraq and largely have declined to serve in wars themselves. The people like John Bolton, former Vice president Dick Cheney, and the likes at American Enterprise Institute, Heritage, or publications like the Murdoch News Corp’s Wall Street Journal and The Weekly Standard have all joined in opposition, but are really only fueling the drums of war and also placing money in the hands of the arms providers.

I like all the quotes of Hagel above; they seem for our times to be prudent, not isolationist and not wanting true security, but thoughtful and tested.


After reading this article, be sure to look at our Student National Security-Foreign Policy Solutions Essay Contest page to submit your essay today!

Obama’s Inaugural Stance on Global Engagement and Strategic Posture: The Debate is Now Commenced!

The most significant part of President Barack Obama’s inaugural address dealing with foreign policy is the quote:               

We, the people, still believe that enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war. ………we are also heirs to those who won the peace and not just the war; who turned sworn enemies into the surest of friends — and we must carry those lessons into this time as well. We will defend our people and uphold our values through strength of arms and rule of law. We will show the courage to try and resolve our differences with other nations peacefully — not because we are naïve about the dangers we face, but because engagement can more durably lift suspicion and fear.”

It is within this framework that the outlines of Obama’s second term global outlook and policies will be shaped. He further said that these are not rigid positions, but rather the direction he wants to take a nation that has experienced brutal war for more than a decade at great cost in lives and resources. It is a position that is tested by both experience and hard analysis of the strategic landscape America is facing. It is not, as some have suggested, an abandonment of global engagement. In fact, it is just the contrary!

But even before the inaugural address and immediately afterwards, the neo-conservatives and “war party” types, including  in think tanks and the media, accused him of softness and of “cutting [our] military.” Examples abound in the Washington Posts’ two editorials, ‘Obama 2.0‘ and ‘Mr. Obama reboots‘ (January 20th and 22nd respectively). The latter seems to call for continued endless war and engagement in a vast array of dangerous places with armed troops. The same can be said for the article by Richard Cohen in the paper’s January 22nd edition or the article by Jim Hoagland from January 18th. These views are backed up by others from the far right like John Bolton of AEI in his speech to the Chatham House recently. We can expect more of this from those who think sending our troops to fight their wars seems to be their main passion in lock step with the military industrial sector’s push for more and more weapons (and large profits) that are of no real use to those who have to serve in hard places in asymmetrical warfare conditions.

Obama set forth an ambitious and broad foreign affairs agenda yesterday, including in the mix the critical climate change, which in reality will have a far more devastating impact on our nation and the globe in the coming decades than any foreseeable act of terrorism. He has already made the “pivot” to Asia, which is the opposite from “withdrawal.”

Obama also heralds a more judicious use of our military might and a redeployment of our defense assets towards present and future threats. He furthermore challenges the buying of expensive and unneeded systems, rather than a mindless continued escalation of these useless purchases for the dangers of the old “cold war” and past conflicts. As we have posited from this blog, the basic forward strategy is the use of what many call “smart power” and “soft power”  This means especially early significant multilateral preventive intervention in emerging areas of unrest and conflict before military force is needed.

A statement by defense Secretary Leon Panetta, on the ABC’s Martha Raddatz show said, “I think it does mean that we’re going to have to work with other countries to develop the kinds of alliances and partnerships that bring other countries into the challenge of how we preserve peace. It just can’t be the U.S.”

The same must be said of the active involvement of international organizations like the UN and even NATO/EU in empowering these institutions, and perhaps new ones that build the capability of civic society, humanitarian intervention, and economic development, as well as peace making: this includes peacekeeping and preventive diplomacy.  Much of this has to be on the ground conciliation and negotiations involving neutral parties and NGOs. It also calls for more funding for our international development programs, for support of international peacekeeping efforts, for public diplomacy, and, as noted, for old-fashioned early intervention diplomacy.

After reading this article, be sure to look at our Student National Security-Foreign Policy Solutions Essay Contest page to submit your essay today!