Hagel: A Different Kind of Defense Secretary

Hagel’s nomination and inevitable appointment as Secretary of Defense is stirring controversy in the Senate — as it should

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Chuck Hagel, President Obama's nominee for Defense Secretary

Former Senator Chuck Hagel’s nomination and inevitable appointment as Secretary of Defense is stirring controversy in the Senate.

It should.

Hagel’s appointment signals the end of 20 years of interventions that began with Somalia and ended with Iraq and, very soon, Afghanistan.

Hagel’s appointment also makes certain that defense spending will be significantly reduced to pre-2000 levels or lower. How that spending and the massive bureaucratic structure it supports will be reduced is unknown, but the proverbial handwriting is on the wall.

In this sense, Hagel’s appointment trumps the ideology of permanent conflict, a belief system promoted by neocons inside the Beltway that allows politicians and generals to define failure as success while spending money without any enduring strategic framework relating U.S. military power to attainable strategic goals.

To hear Hagel’s critics in the Senate, Hagel’s offense is the result of his determination to see the world as it is, not as the capital’s ideologues would like Americans to see it.

Hagel’s first sin was to reject the much celebrated 2007 surge in Iraq as a serious strategic blunder. His skepticism was no doubt informed by his personal experience with open-ended missions to install democracy at gunpoint in a backward society called Vietnam.

As it turned out, Hagel was right. It seems that his real sin was his determination to be guided by Winston Churchill’s admonition that “an exaggerated code of honor leading to the performance of utterly vain and unreasonable deeds should not be defended however fine it might look.”

Other than killing more than a thousand Americans in uniform, along with seriously wounding thousands more, the crowning achievement of the surge was the permanent installation of Iranian national power and influence in Baghdad in the form of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government, Tehran’s preferred regime. Iraq’s current government is nothing more than a shabby democratic facade, one that barely conceals an Iranian-backed Shi’ite Arab dictatorship in Baghdad.

Hagel’s second sin appears to be his unwillingness to wage war on behalf of the Israeli government against Iran, a state that spends less on defense than Greece. Not to worry, Hagel is in good company.

Though as pro-British as his cousin Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt had no intention of declaring war on behalf of another state, least of all the faltering British Empire. More important, he would not make Woodrow Wilson’s mistake and commit millions of Americans to an ideological crusade that promised no tangible strategic benefit to the American people.

Between 1939 and 1942, FDR resisted Churchill’s considerable powers of persuasion, providing only what assistance Britain needed to survive and nothing more. When Adolf Hitler turned on the Soviet Union, his closest ally until June 1941, FDR knew the Nazis had overextended themselves. He could afford to build up American strength while the Nazis and communists exhausted themselves in a war of self-destruction.

When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and Hitler foolishly declared war on the U.S. as a party to his treaty of alliance with Japan, FDR acted. Again, his response was calculated and, with the benefit of hindsight, correct. Moving prematurely to challenge the German military machine at the height of its powers would have meant 10 times the number of American dead we lost, if not outright defeat.

Hagel’s caution regarding the use of force against Iran is equally justified. Negotiating with an Iranian leadership that has one foot in the seminary and the other in the bazaar will not be easy, but it is more likely to serve American strategic interests than brute force.

Hagel’s third sin is reportedly his lack of personal experience inside the Defense Department’s bureaucracy. As one Washingtonian put it, “The man running the Pentagon is in charge of one of the biggest and most complex bureaucracies in the world, and there is nothing in Senator Hagel’s background that says he can do the job well.” Really?

Presumably, this inside-the-Beltway expert regards the last 20 years of wasteful and expensive procurement programs — from ship building to body armor, with an endless succession of ineffective military operations — as evidence of brilliant stewardship in the office of Secretary of Defense of American blood and treasure.

The truth is, federal auditors, poring over the Defense Department’s conflicting financial statements, missing data and accounting discrepancies, have thus far been unable to account for hundreds of billions of dollars, even as Congress continues to fund the defense establishment. The loss or waste of billions of defense dollars each year is a condition the Government Accountability Office says has afflicted the Pentagon for decades. If Hagel is not part of this disastrous problem, maybe he can be part of the solution.

Finally, FDR, Harry Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower were men whose judicious application of American blood and treasure flowed from an appreciation of the country’s political, economic and military limitations as well as its potential.

All three men were imperfect by today’s lofty public standards. They reached the White House in different ways and with different political parties, but all were able to distinguish reality from fiction in the conduct of war and the preservation of peace.

Hagel is a man very much in the mold of these men, being unpretentious and parsimonious with American blood and treasure. As a result, he has the moral courage to make choices that serve the national interest and mission accomplishment. Even if that means — as he demonstrated under fire in Vietnam — taking action that jeopardizes his own well-being.

135 comments
BarryTanner
BarryTanner

Hagel’s caution regarding the use of force against Iran is equally justified. Negotiating with an Iranian leadership that has one foot in the seminary and the other in the bazaar will not be easy, but it is more likely to serve American strategic interests than brute force.

Really? Just think what the West's relationship with Islam might be had 'lil Jimmy Carter challenged the Ayatollah in 1979. Maybe there would have been no Khobar Towers, or the Cole, or the 1993 WTC bombing, or 9-11. Think about it! 

Read more: http://nation.time.com/2013/01/08/hagel-a-different-kind-of-defense-secretary/#ixzz2J2INNk00

Ingineer66
Ingineer66

How does his appointment signal the end of intervention in other countries? Obama has sent US troops to intervene in twice as many nations as President Bush did. It just is not the top story on the nightly news every day.

jkantor
jkantor

Another Liberal Joke from the Joke in Chief.

curatica
curatica

The only laudatory article about Sen. Hagel I've read since the beginning of the turmoil. Commending intention, Mr. Macgregor, thank you!

RenaNichols
RenaNichols

Hagel-----and yet another old white man.

whitroth
whitroth

The author starts out well... and then goes off into la-la land. "Install democracy with a gun in a backward country like Vietnam"? You mean, the way Ike noted that had the 1956 UN elections been held, at least 80% would have voted for Ho Chi Minh? Or FDR didn't want to jump in to save the British Empire... rather than a) not wanting to do what Wilson did, and b) not having enough to pull Congress to declare war on Germany (I suggest you look into fascism in the US)?

The "Nazis and communists exhausted themselves in a war of self-destruction"? It's been argued that Normandy might not have been possible, if the Red Army hadn't been grinding the Wehrmacht into dogfood for years. It also denigrates the one-in-ten wounded or killed fighting the Nazis.


Truman and Ike weren't that judicious. One can argue over Korea... but Ike sending in the Marines to Nicaragua in '55, I think, for United Fruit? Or overthrowing the elected leader of Iran, and installing the Shah (leading, in '79, to the revolt....)?

But Hagel *does* seem to be a realist, and aware of the limits of force... esp. when the US keeps trying to use high-tech, without troops in harms' way, to hold territory, and are shocked when it doesn't work. He also seems to be aware that the US spends more on the DoD than the next, what, 6? 14? largest nations in the world, COMBINED?

 Then there's Israel... anti-semitic, because he disagrees with the current leadership? Gee, next you're going to accuse me of being antiAmerican if I'm not a Republican neoconfederate Tea Party member.

          mark

lbjack
lbjack

This thing about Hagel being homophobic I don't buy. He called a nominee "openly, aggressively gay". Before going into hysterics, one should consider the wording. Not simply "gay" but "openly and aggressively gay". You know, a U.S. senator, Bob Packwood, lost his job for being "openly and aggressively heterosexual". Same thing almost happened to a recent president. The problem Hagel seemed to have with the nominee was not "gay" but behavior. Did this guy have a rep for putting the move on other guys? If that's what Hagel was getting at, then he had a point. Perhaps this should be settled before one debates Hagel's ideological purity re gays. Alas, the gay lobby has already screeched "Homophobe!" so I guess that's how the issue is going to be framed.

voiceofamerica
voiceofamerica

This piece is what counts for journalism these days at Time?  It consists of nothing but laudation and nebulous references comparing the Senator to "great" leaders from 50-70 years in the past.  Why doesn't Mr. Macgregor just get it over with and ask Senator Hagel on a date?  The article contains no facts on Senator Hagel, no historical accounts of his leadership qualifications other than "...his personal experience with open-ended missions to install democracy-at-gunpoint inside a backward society called Vietnam."  Wow, that tells me everything I need to know about Senator Hagel's qualifications!  Install him as Sec Def immediately!!!  (That's sarcasm for those of you who don't speak the language, including some of you Americans on here.)

I also take issue with Mr. Macgregor's characterization of Vietnam as a backward society.  Really?  On what do you base that statement?  Because they're different and less developed than the U.S.?  This coming from someone who lives in the profession of journalism that continuously tells all Americans that "we must ALL be politically correct ALL the time."

How about some real investigation into the Senator, so that people can review information and facts that are actually *relevant* to his nomination?  Maybe the commentary below would actually be about this nomination, instead of simply devolving into the same, tired liberal vs. conservative arguments that accomplish nothing and continue our country's spiral into a nation divided.


irma
irma

The misguided analysis presents this issue as a problem which has nothing to do with the US is a fallacy. If this is Israel’s war, are you claiming that yes indeed Iran is threat to Israel only and the US has no obligation to help Israel defend its existence? OK, I’ll take you up on that. This is the exact attitude all the allies exercised in WWII. The Jews fended for themselves, except they had zero power and consequently 6M of them were exterminated. So now the US is not going to do anything if Iran threatens Israel with a nuclear bomb (again). Fine, but accepts Israel actions to defend itself and do not complain when Israel does whatever it thinks is necessary to prevent a repeat of WWII.
Now, that’s a recipe for a brilliant foreign and defence policy for the US, not to mention moral one… But hey, this is what this writer is claiming the US does.

amazed108
amazed108

We could reduce military spending from 4.7% of GDP (2012) to 1% of GDP and still spend more than the next biggest spender (China).  Japan, Germany and South Korea should increase their spending from 1% GDP to make up for all the years we have staged troops in these areas and pay for their own defense

ameer.amirian
ameer.amirian

American people should be proud of him. He is a classic American politician. He is honest, independent, self made, and contrary to most senators we have in Washington, who are crooks, thieves and dishonest.

I am sure he will be excel;lent Secretary of Defense, and he will be one of a kind Washington evert had in recent memory.

He is genuine American \who can make a good judgment and most foreign governments admire his vision, his understanding of today's world politics.  Good to hear that woman hillary is out.

Aurora27
Aurora27

Macgregor's vision of a 21st century military (see his May 2012 post) and his personal military experience demonstrate his credibility on this point which is why his conclusion is so strange.  First, Chuck Hagel does not have the executive management experience to run a $700 billion enterprise and as a prospective chief executive of the DoD he is a woefully weak and inadequate management choice.  Perhaps this is one of the most fundamental reasons why the financial management of DoD has been so inadequate for decades?   Managerial excellence hasn't been a criteria for SecDef for nearly 50 years.  Why not Jack Welch?   Second, yes, Hagel served in the military, but come on people.  He was a sergeant in the Army 45 years ago and now we're supposed to be convinced that he can oversee military strategy for the largest military organization in the history of the world?  Third, we are supposed to be impressed that his policy bias if any any seems to be in favor of the limited use of military force.-certainly restraint is a point in his favor and he will be no engineer of the next Gulf of Tonkin.  However, when coupled with his views on known threats (Iran) and allies (Israel) which conform to Obama's and his foreign policy team, the question is just how independent will this SecDef actually be?   Inadequate as a manager.  Inadequate as a military leader.  Questionable from a policy perspective.  He seems to be a weak candidate who will do nothing to change the status quo (Panetta) at the Pentagon, which is likely exactly what Obama is seeking from this nomination.   He certainly won't be leading a dramatic shift in Pentagon policy and ushering in a 21st century military.   Macgregor is smart enough to know this which is why his endorsement of this pick is all the more mystifying. 

nana4g
nana4g

Excellent assessment of the President's nominee for Secretary of Defense.  A man with integrity and the courage of his convictions, honed by thoughtful consideration, historical perspectives from reading, and the real-life gut wrenching experiences of fighting the war(s) declared by those who sit in Congress.  A man who avows his loyalty as a US Senator to his own country first, no matter how much an ally is revered; who is esteemed by Israelis when Hagel was in charge of the USO over there and view him as "A gift from
God" at that time; who, like many, many of the rest of us, evolved his thinking and belief about the position of LBGTs in all walks of life over the past 14 years; and a man who may have lost his own political Party but has gained a country of people who admire and respect him, at least I do.  There is nothing in Hagel's record that supports the allegation that "he is not a friend to Israel", a charge from those who put loyalty oaths to mere ideologues such as Norquist over and above their Constitutional Oaths of Office that commands them to work on behalf of their country first, willing to wreck havoc in their own country in order to adhere to their Norquist Oath.

I have read and heard that his philosophy and positions comport with those of former Secretary Baker, Brent Scowcroft, Colin Powell, and now, Winston Churchill.  Compared to Lyndsey Graham, John McCain, John Cornyn , Ted Cruz, and others, we endure still another rattling and clattering of a bunch of empty cans, as the nuns once told me, who make the most noise because they are empty.

lswiger
lswiger

Well said, I have supported Chuck for a while now. His support of Bob Kerry took a lot of flack here in Omaha but I believe he was right. But will they put an enlisted slug (I am a retired E-9) in charge at the pentagon?

wolfman
wolfman

Great article. Excellent comprehensive review in historical context.

DrinkerOfTheRye
DrinkerOfTheRye

Hagel is no less qualified than Leon Panetta who has disappointed the White House by merely parroting the brass's assessments of doom and gloom over sequestration demanded defense cuts.  Chuck can gut those Pentagon programs and troop strength based on his 45 year old experience leading 7 men in combat in Vietnam.  It’s time those soldiers find real jobs.

amazed108
amazed108

Wow, this should be a primer in rewriting history.  FDR campaigned on staying out of European wars and then once in office did everything he could to get us into WWII.  When you are actively supporting one side with everything it takes to fight a war and doing all you can including an embargo on sending oil to Japan what would you expect to happen.  I'm not arguing that we shouldn't reduce military spending, in fact I believe we should end American imperialism by closing all of the overseas bases that we waste billions on.  Just don't believe that this imperialism only started lately.  It started way back with the heroes of this piece.

usbworks
usbworks

@Ingineer66 Hapshoo. Sorry but I'm allergic to BS. Up is down, down is up. Been there done that with Republicans.

Shingo
Shingo

@jkantor Yeah what a joke.  A president who can articulate a sentence and and a nominee who someone managed to notice that the Iraq war was a disaster and wasn't too embarrassed to admit it.

Shingo
Shingo

@RenaNichols >> and yet another old white man.

And one of the very few not bought and paid for.

lbjack
lbjack

@whitroth The question about anti-Semitism is his use of "Jewish" instead of "Israeli".  I don't think he's deliberately anti-Semtiic -- and his voting record doesn't suggest it -- but his choice of word is troubling.  Was it a slip of the tongue, or did he mean it?  Was he given a chance to explain what he meant by "Jewish"?

DrinkerOfTheRye
DrinkerOfTheRye

Maybe it's the "openly" part.  Military guys don't much like openess.

Shingo
Shingo

@voiceofamerica >> How about some real investigation into the Senator, so that people can review information and facts that are actually *relevant* to his nomination?

Fair enough, though it appears while you take exception to a nebulous endirsement fo Hagel, you have no problem with the spurious attacks made against him.

Shingo
Shingo

@voiceofamerica How about some real investigation into the Senator, so that people can review information and facts that are actually *relevant* to his nomination?

That's a fair point, though I noticed you didn't take any time to criticize the nebulous attacks made against Hagel.

curatica
curatica

@voiceofamerica I agree with the critique; the article is portentous and childish at the same time..., and misses the point.

lbjack
lbjack

@voiceofamerica The defense secretary does not make policy, he implements policy set by the White House. As for a Jack Welch, we had a Jack Welch named McNamara, and he didn't turn out so peachy. Neither did another administrator with a packed resume named Rumsfeld. But nice try.

Shingo
Shingo

@irma >> If this is Israel’s war, are you claiming that yes indeed Iran is threat to Israel only and the US has no obligation to help Israel defend its existence?

Who says Iran is a threat to anyone and who, besides Netenayhu, even believes Iran is a threat to Israel's existence?

>> The Jews fended for themselves, except they had zero power and consequently 6M of them were exterminated. 

IN which case, your analogy falls apart at the first hurdle.  In 2013, Israel has the most powerful military in the region, and hundreds of nukes.

>> So now the US is not going to do anything if Iran threatens Israel with a nuclear bomb (again). 

What do you mean "again".  Not only has Iran never threatened Israel, but it certainly has not even suggested using nukes or even wanting them.

>> do not complain when Israel does whatever it thinks is necessary to prevent a repeat of WWII.

What repeated of WWII?  Unlike Nazi Germany, Iran has not attacked or invaded anyone in 3000 years and as I pointed out, Israel has the 4th most powerful military in the world.  And FYI, Israraeli leades have admitted Israel does not have eh capability to attack Iran on it's own, hence the hysteria over Hagel, who has stated a war with Iran would be insane.


Shingo
Shingo

@Aurora27 >> First, Chuck Hagel does not have the executive management experience to run a $700 billion enterprise and as a prospective chief executive of the DoD he is a woefully weak and inadequate management choice.

Really?

What experience do you need? After Secretary of Defense Harold Brown left office, he published a book and hit the lecture circuit discussing the topic “Managing’ the Defense Department-Why It Can’t Be Done” 

Besides being a US Senator who served on the Banking and Intelligence Committees, Hagel founded or served as the head of several companies that made him a multi-millionaire; was a successful registered lobbyist before he became a candidate for elected or appointed public office; was the Deputy Administrator of the Veterans Administration; a member of the Board of Directors of Chevron Corporation, a member of the Advisory Board of the American Red Cross, the Director of the USO, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations; and a Professor at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. But more importantly he served in the Armed Forces during a conflict that was supposedly managed by “The Best and the Brightest”.

http://books.google.com/books/about/Managing_the_Defense_Department_why_it_c.html?id=PvgSAQAAMAAJ

notLostInSpace
notLostInSpace

@amazed108 You are correct, but I will go further, imperialism has ruled the US for our entire history; nothing new.  I think it is one of the biggest lies we tell our children about our history.  If there is something we want, we figure out a way to buy it cheap or steal it.  Recall the statements that Iraq oil would pay for the war.  Ha.  Or ask any indian!

Shingo
Shingo

@lbjack @whitroth As Peter Beinart argues in his piece at the Daily Beast:

"Had Hagel passed that test (ie. suporting Israel's security needs as definied by the right) , conservative Republicans and Jewish “leaders” wouldn't be as bothered by his use of the term “Jewish lobby” in 2005 as they were when Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations executive vice chairman Malcolm Hoenlein used the phrase last month"

voiceofamerica
voiceofamerica

Ok, two questions for you, oh learned one regarding all things Sec Def related:

First, where in my original comment did I state that Sec Def makes policy?  Nevermind that your point on this is way off the mark, because as a member of the President's cabinet the Secretary of Defense has significant influence over policy decisions.

Second, where in my original comment did I make reference to Jack Welch?

DrinkerOfTheRye
DrinkerOfTheRye

Actually he does make DoD Policy and has an Under Secretary of Defense for Policy assigned.The Sec Def participates in the formulation of national security and defense policy and establishes DoD policy and plans to achieve national security objectives.Good point on Rumsfeld though.

DrinkerOfTheRye
DrinkerOfTheRye

Imperialism is nothing new or unique to us or our European cousins. People have been conquering others and building empires since the beginning of recorded history.The only things that change is the scope, scale, methods and intent.From the ancient empires of Assyria, Shang Dynasty, Egyptian Dynasty, and Babylonian, to Western Roman, Carthage, Mongolian, Aztecs, to the more recent Ottoman, European, Russian, etc, there is a desire to expand control.  It'snot only our history, it's the worlds.

lbjack
lbjack

@voiceofamerica Apologies.  I thought I was replying to Aurora27 below.  And indeed I do recognize sarcasm, which, in this case, is well-warranted.  If I'm going to play the "learned one," then at least I should know who the hell I'm replying to.  

As for the policy role of Defense Secretary, please see my reply to DrinkerOfTheRye. 

DrinkerOfTheRye
DrinkerOfTheRye

@lbjack @DrinkerOfTheRye It not his experience as a legislature, which all acknowledge is mediocre, that we need.  Chuck was a highly successful venture capitalist.  He knows where to cut fat, how to fire people, shares many of the same people skills as Feith, knows what to off-shore to get best value and his NCO time proves he can take orders.

lbjack
lbjack

@DrinkerOfTheRye In practice they indeed do set policy within their bailiwick.  And depending on the president they may in-effect set national defense policy.  But institutionally, the Defense Secretary is one voice, one adviser amongst many -- principally through the NSC -- who input to the President, who then sets the policy.  FDR pretty much gave Marshall his marching orders, which the War Secretary Stimson (also a Republican) was to coördinate.  In fact, FDR made the decision of how to fight the Pacific war after hearing Nimitz and MacArthur, and as far as I know, neither Stimson nor Marshall was present. And Ike certainly didn't let his defense secretaries set policy.  McNamara was so subordinated to LBJ that he's been condemned for not resigning sooner.  I don't think anybody could say with a straight face that George W. Bush set defense policy.  It was mostly Cheney, Rumsfeld and Doug Feith (from what I understand a 1st-class SOB) who set national defense policy.

As for Obama and Hagel, my concern is hiring anybody out of Congress to administer Defense.  Senators and congressmen are not administrators. That doesn't mean they can't be effective, but you shouldn't appoint them for policy reasons alone. I think Hagel personally is a great asset.  Whether he can actually run Defense remains to be seen, but rather  I'd defer to the president than the blowhards.

DrinkerOfTheRye
DrinkerOfTheRye

I was commenting on notLost'spot on US imperialism by remarking that it is a comon condition of the powerfull.  I don't defend the size of our defense budget, but I do do notice that few people on either side, discuss it from a strtegic point of view.  What do we want our military to be capable of doing and where are we willing to take risks.

amazed108
amazed108

@DrinkerOfTheRye I'm not sure I understand your point.  Do you mean it is OK for us to spend 711 billion per year on military spending to support American imperialism because it is part of world history?


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