THE STORM OVER CHUCK HAGEL: A COMMENT
"In the three weeks since Chuck Hagel’s name emerged as President Barack Obama’s likely choice as the next secretary of defense, there's been a lively, if lopsided, debate about his qualifications for the job. The debate’s been lopsided because the arguments for Hagel have been so startlingly weak. It’s not just that those arguing for Hagel form an unusually motley crew, even by the standards of the anti-Israel swamp in which many of them frolic. What's striking about the case for Hagel is its absence. His backers can cite no significant legislation for which Hagel was responsible in his two terms in the Senate. They can quote no memorable speeches that Hagel delivered and can cite no profound passages from the book he authored. They can summarize no perceptive Hagelian analysis of defense or foreign policy, and can appeal to no acts of management or leadership by the man they'd have as our next secretary of defense. The fact is that those legislative achievements, intellectual insights, or management triumphs don't exist. A long and comprehensive history of the Senate during Chuck Hagel's tenure there could be written that would barely mention him. A long and comprehensive account of American foreign and defense policy in the last thirty years would hardly note his existence. So even if one left aside Chuck Hagel's dangerous views on Iran and his unpleasant distaste for Israel and Jews, a dispassionate analyst would have to conclude that the case for Hagel is extraordinarily weak. A host of individuals who've served in the Pentagon during President Obama's first term—like Deputy Secretary Ashton Carter, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, and former Undersecretary for Policy Michèle Flournoy—are more qualified than Chuck Hagel to serve as the next secretary of defense. So are Clinton administration Defense Department veterans like Richard Danzig, John Hamre, and Joseph Nye. So are former legislators like Olympia Snowe, Sam Nunn, Dick Gephardt, and Bill Bradley. So are others from the private and public sector. Or look at it this way. Over the last four decades, the following dozen men have served as the United States Secretary of Defense: Elliot Richardson, James Schlesinger, Donald Rumsfeld (twice), Harold Brown, Cap Weinberger, Frank Carlucci, Dick Cheney, Les Aspin, Bill Perry, Bill Cohen, Bob Gates, and Leon Panetta. They were all impressive public servants. Chuck Hagel clearly falls short of all of them in stature and distinction.... The fact is, criticism of Hagel has been substantive—focused on his out of the mainstream votes and his distasteful quotations, as well as his general lack of distinction. And the critics have also focused on the fact that the position being discussed is that of secretary of defense. No one would care if the president wanted to send Hagel off to openly and aggressively make the case for Obama's foreign policy as ambassador to Luxembourg. But the secretary of defense has real responsibilities. Even his nomination has real consequences. In fact, nominating a person who is clearly soft on Iran would send exactly the wrong message to Tehran. Which is why President Obama should prevail in not nominating Hagel in the first place, and why members of Congress of both parties who have been engaged in the attempt to deter Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons should be particularly alarmed at a Hagel nomination. It looks, though, as if President Obama may be determined to nominate Chuck Hagel. If he does, he will be doing himself and the nation a disservice. The next secretary of defense should be a well-respected mainstream national security leader, not an out-of-the-mainstream mediocrity. So if the president nominates Chuck Hagel, we would expect a vigorous examination of the Hagel record by senators of both parties, followed by the United States Senate withholding its consent to his selection as secretary of defense. This would give the president another chance to select a man or woman of distinction for this high office, one who would command widespread support and would be confirmed easily. And this would be a better outcome for our military, the Defense Department, and the nation"William Kristol, "Special Editorial: There's is no case for Hagel." The Weekly Standard. 4 January 2013, in www.weeklystandard.com.
"As to the defence issue, first of all, I don’t know all the facts, but I would say this. The defence department, I think in many ways has been bloated. Let’s look at the reality here. The defence department has gotten everything it’s wanted the last 10 years and more. We’ve taken priorities, we’ve taken dollars, we’ve taken programmes, we’ve taken policies out of the State Department, out of a number of other departments and put them over in defence. Now, I understand the nation is at war, two wars. That’s going to be the result. But, you have, and I think most Americans who read, who pay attention to anything, know about the inspector general’s reports. The latest one talking about $35bn in waste, fraud and abuse, coming directly out of corruption. $35 bn, and that’s just one report in one country. The abuse and the waste and the fraud is astounding. It always is in war, by the way. I was in Vietnam in 1968. Even as a private, eventually being a sergeant, out on combat every day, even I saw a tremendous amount of that, so I think the Pentagon needs to be pared down. I think we need the Pentagon to look at their own priorities. Resources must always match the mission. Of course, but our mission has become so wobbly, our objectives. For example, Afghanistan. Where we are today, with $140bn a year, this last year, 100,000 American troops in there, plus all the civilians and all the contractors, 10 years after we invaded, that wasn’t even close to what the objective and the mission was when we first went in. We’ve lost sight totally of the mission in Afghanistan. Talk about mission creep, this is the definition of mission creep. This is a complete rebuilding of a country, so my point is, and I don’t blame the military for this. They were charged by the Congress, by the presidents, by the administrations to do all this, and they needed the resources to do it. There’s a tremendous amount of bloat in the Pentagon, and that has to be scaled back, but the mission drives that, but the resources drive the mission too, and we know that you can’t sustain this. We know that the American public want out. We know that the Congress want out, and that’s going to require bringing down that budget, and the prioritisation of our military itself. I don’t think that our military has really looked at themselves strategically, critically in a long, long time. Every agency needs to do that. The Department of Defence, and I’m a strong supporter of this Department of Defence, the Department of Defence always gets off by saying, well, this is national security. You can’t touch national defence. Well, no American wants to in any way hurt our capabilities to national defence, but that doesn’t mean an unlimited amount of money, and a blank cheque for anything they want at any time, for any purpose. Not at all. Not at all, and so the realities are that the mess we’re in this country, with our debt and our deficits, and our infrastructure and jobless and all the rest, is going to require everybody to take a look, even the defence department, and make a pretty hard."Chuck Hagel quoted in an interview conducted on 29th of August 2011, "FT Interview with Chuck Hagel." The Financial Times. December 19, 2012, in www.ft.com. The storm over the nomination of ex-Senator Chuck Hagel for the post of American Secretary of Defence has three, not entirely related aspects: i) his views on the State of Israel and the power of the so-called 'Jewish Lobby', in American politics. As well as the partially related question of the potential use of force in settling the fraught issue of Persia's quest for Nuclear Weapons; ii) his general positions on the USA's role in the world and the size of the American Defence Budget; iii) his qualifications for the post. On the first of these issues, it would appear to the independent observer, that while Mr. Hagel's statement were less than diplomatic or indeed astute for someone who is in the public eye, they by themselves hardly can be said to rule out him for consideration for a Cabinet position. As his ex-colleague, Senator Lindsey Graham has commented that Mr. Hagel, 'has to answer' for his comments, and no doubt that he will do so 1. Per se, unless Mr. Hagel were to egregiously expand upon these impolitic comments about the 'Jewish Lobby' (which really refers to the pro-Israel Lobby) in front of his ex-colleagues in the Senate, I believe that it should be put down as a non-issue. In terms of his general views on America's view of the world, it is to my mind a very good thing indeed for Senator Hagel, to be a bit more skeptical, about a liberal readiness to employ force `a la the neo-conservative weltanschauung as enunciated by Mr. Kristol among others. For two reasons: a) given the general fiscal position that the USA is in, a certain degree of caution about the employment of force is something to be cheered rather than deprecated; b) the fact is that the man who is in the office of Secretary of Defence is not the best person to play a leading role on ultima ratio of the use (or not) of force. To my mind, it is the Secretary of State, who is the best person to lead on this and other issues of foreign policy. That was the case if one looks at the past for the pastmasters who have held the post: Marshall, Acheson, Dulles, Kissinger, and Baker. In cases where the Secretary of Defence has endeavored to 'play a role', or indeed even a 'key role', have had the end result of contributing not a little degree of confusion into the policymaking process. One need only recall the names of: Johnson, McNamara, Schlesinger, Rumsfeld (twice), Weinberger, to remember those less than positive case histories. For me though, the key to why the Hagel nomination could indeed be a very good one is the fact that Mr. Hagel seems to see his role in the post as that of someone to endeavor to bring some degree of cost-effectiveness and efficiency to what is in fact a bureaucratic behemoth. Au fond I would not necessarily disagree, with Mr. Kristol about the fact that on the face of it, Mr. Hagel is not the 'best or most qualified' person for the position. It is also the fact though, if one were to look at the list of personages mentioned by Mr. Kristol, what occurs to one is that this list of individuals can be sorted out into four types: x) visionaries who endeavored to change the mold of the institution; y) 'a safe pair of hands'; z) place holders (Clifford, Richardson, Cohen, Carlucci) and finally abject failures (Johnson, Wilson). And what is in fact historically speaking the case is that with the partial exception of Secretary McNamara, is that all the visionaries (Forrestal, McNamara, Aspin and Rumsfeld [second tour]) were in fact failures. Their attempts to reform or thoroughly shape or re-shape the institution ended in failures. It is those who can be characterized as a 'safe pair of hands' (Marshall, Lovett, Thomas and Robert Gates, Laird, Brown, Cheney) many of whom were appointed to 'reduce', not increase the Defence Budget, who come out historically speaking with better reputations, notwithstanding the fact that they were perhaps in some cases less qualified for the position. I think that in the case of Mr. Hagel, we have a potential opportunity of someone who could indeed attempt to considerably reform this vitally important but also monstrously out of control institution. Given the ongoing fiscal difficulties that the USA is undergoing, the fact is that the best person to have at the Pentagon is someone who will concentrate their minds and energies on reform. The very last thing that the USA needs is a Defence Secretary who neglects the need for reform in order to interfere in the foreign policy process. It is this more than anything else which makes Mr. Hagel perhaps the best person perhaps for position. 1. Geoff Dwyer, "Hagel Defence Nomination faces struggle." The Financial Times. 20 December 2012, in www.ft.com.