Obama — not America — needs Hagel for Defense
Former U.S. Senator Chuck Hagel is a bad choice for American security but President Barack Obama may appointment him secretary of defense in order to further rob the defense budget to fund entitlement programs.
There is plenty of media speculation that Obama will nominate Hagel to fill the shoes of outgoing Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta. Presidents deserve the advisers they want but America needs a true, non-ideological defense expert in these fiscally and security challenged times.
The next secretary of defense faces a phalanx of complex challenges which require a seasoned security expert. Among the most difficult challenges include presiding over the withdrawal of combat troops from Afghanistan, directing steep cuts in defense spending, and restructuring the armed forces after more than a decade of war without jeopardizing national security. Meanwhile, the war on terrorism continues, rogue states like Iran and North Korea will soon have nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles, China is rapidly becoming a global military adversary and the homeland’s infrastructure is unprepared for the likes of catastrophic cyber-attacks.
Senator Hagel is not up to the task of shepherding the Pentagon for six reasons.
First, Hagel is not a defense expert. Yes, Hagel served as a junior enlisted man for two years during the Vietnam War, including a combat tour. That experience forty-five years ago is appreciated but does not qualify him to run the world’s most complex armed forces.
His subsequent job experiences haven’t improved his qualifications either. He served two terms as an U.S. senator specializing in foreign relations, not defense matters and his business experiences were with start-up, small firms rather than giant organizations like the Department of Defense.
Hagel is currently an academic, chairs an international relations think tank and serves on several boards. His only defense-related experience is an Obama appointment to the Defense Policy Board.
Second, Hagel naively staked out a position that defense must be cut even though he has no obvious defense budget expertise. Last year Hagel told the Financial Times “The defense department, I think in many ways, has been bloated. So I think the Pentagon needs to be pared down.”
That view runs contrary to the current secretary of defense’s perspective. Secretary Panetta, who concentrated on budget issues while in Congress and served as the Director of the U.S. Office of Management and Budget, cautions against dramatic defense cuts. Panetta warned so-called sequestration cuts (estimated at $492 billion starting next week) on top of $450 billion of reductions already being digested would “be devastating for the department.”
Third, Hagel favors nuclear disarmament and accommodating Russia on missile defense in spite of growing threats. The former senator is a Global Zero signatory, a movement for the elimination of all nuclear weapons. Hagel’s nuclear views align perfectly with Obama who said “Global Zero will always have a partner in me and my administration.”
Obama is making dangerous progress shedding America of its nuclear weapons. His 2011 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia reduced our arsenal to 1,550 weapons down from more than 32,040 during the height of the Cold War. Last summer leaks to the press attributed to Obama officials indicate the president is prepared to unilaterally reduce our nuclear arsenal to 1,000 warheads.
Hagel is also a critic of missile defenses and while in the senate he wanted to halt our anti-missile development because of Russian objections. That is important because Russia’s president still opposes our missile defenses and a year ago Obama promised Russia’s president that once re-elected he would have more “flexibility” on missile defense.
Fourth, Hagel is an opportunist as evidenced by his apology to gay activists. Back in 1998 Hagel opposed President Clinton’s “openly aggressively gay” appointee to be ambassador to Luxembourg. Last week gay Democratic activists came out against Hagel’s potential appointment based on his 1998 opposition to the gay appointee which prompted Hagel to issue a strong apology this past Friday to preserve his nomination chances.
Now expect Hagel to make another apology for his support of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the 1993 military ban on gays serving in the military. The Human Rights Campaign, a radical gay group, is demanding he renounce that support as well and expects him to endorse their Pentagon agenda which includes recognition of homosexual marriage.
Fifth, Hagel may be too anti-war for the job. His biographer quotes Hagel as saying “Not that I’m a pacifist, I’m a hard-edged realist, I understand the world as it is, but war is a terrible thing.” He also told the Library of Congress’ Veterans History Project “I am going to do everything I can to assure that war is the last resort that we, a nation, a people, calls upon to settle a dispute.”
That is an admirable goal but hesitating too long in a crisis may make matters worse. It is critical that the person overseeing our national defense not hesitate when force is needed and Hagel’s statements are not reassuring he is the right person for the job.
Finally, Hagel’s anti-Israel actions and views send a very disturbing strategic message should he become secretary of defense. Specifically, they encourage our enemies and discourage our friends, especially Israel.
Many of Hagel’s anti-Israel actions and views are well-documented in a four-page memo widely distributed to news services this past week in Washington. The memo includes six sections: Background, Coddling Terrorists, Hostility toward Israel and Jews, Accommodation toward Iran, Associations with Extreme Groups and Other Statements of Concern.
The memo states Hagel “has an extremely troubling record on Middle East issues that casts doubt on his preparedness to support policies which advance U.S. national security interests in that region, such as isolating Iran and holding terrorist groups accountable for their actions.”
It specifically mentions a letter Hagel sent to Obama calling for open direct negotiations with the terrorist group Hamas and it documents Hagel’s refusal to express support for Israel or to advance sanctions against Iran for pursuing nuclear weapons. One Hagel quote cited in the memo suggests he is anti-Jewish: “The political reality is that … the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here.”
Why given these reasons might Obama nominate Hagel? There are two explanations: they agree on most security issues and Obama needs help cutting defense.
They share common views on issues like the use of military force, nuclear weapons and letting multilateral institutions lead in places like Syria. As senators they bonded during overseas trips and Obama respects Hagel for his maverick – read anti-Republican – stands.
On issues they disagree the senator is rapidly closing the gap with Obama. Hagel long opposed military force against Iran until this September when he co-authored an Op-Ed in the Washington Post endorsing “keeping all options on the table” for stopping Iran’s nuclear program.
But the main reason Obama needs Hagel is to provide political cover to shrink the Pentagon. Obama knows Hagel’s senate service, military record and GOP credentials, virtually guarantee his confirmation and the appointment of a former Republican senator gives the appearance of bipartisanship while increasing his chances to gut the Pentagon budget to relieve pressure on entitlements.
There are Democratic alternatives to Hagel. John Hamre, who served President Clinton as Pentagon deputy secretary, is very capable as is former defense undersecretary Michele Flournoy. Then again, if Obama really wants a Republican with considerable defense experience, General Colin Powell, who endorsed Obama, might welcome the opportunity to serve once again.