Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Hagel: A Different Kind of 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.

Read more: http://nation.time.com/2013/01/08/hagel-a-different-kind-of-defense-secretary/#ixzz2HS8Qp4BT


  1. Dear sir,

    As a former US Army Infantryman and team leader who fought in Iraq I have a few questions for you. Far be it for me to question an individual with a PHD let alone an army Colonel (I got out as only a Sergeant), as such I mean no disrespect. My father however retired not long a go as a LT.Col from Special Operations (we were actually in Iraq together and got to see each other there) so I did spend a lot of my young life in and around officers and still find it easy to respectfully speak my mind.
    It seems to me, sir, you are essentially advocating a return to the defense transformation of the 1990's. Using superior surveillance and target acquisition equipment combined with information and communication’s gear,the Military can gain the ability to see and quickly understand what was happening on the battlefield, discern the enemy’s intentions and through the use of precision weapons defeat him quickly with a minimal over all foot print. If that is actually what you are advocating, I would say respectfully, Sir, that my own ground combat experience in the current war did not bare this out.
    The best satellite in the world is still just hardware. It can only show you what it sees, which can be inaccurate when the enemy uses basic counter measures such as camouflage, blinding into the local population, dispersion of combatants and deception. It’s also subject to the interpretation of those viewing the information it sends. No piece of hardware can tell you how the enemy will react once they have been engaged in close combat. Only a serious understanding of the enemy, gained by close combat, can tell you with any degree of certainty how the enemy might react when he is engaged. Even in this situation it still remains an unknown and a unit commander, from the General to a team leader, can only use that information to mitigate possible threats. Not one of these systems or ideas can change the fact that the enemy is still making his own decisions. The lessons of warfare still apply even if you have the very best possible understanding of the enemy disposition and weapons that are far superior. As long as the enemy has the will and some means to resist history tells us, then he will and even the very best Military will take causalities.
    More over this type of thinking fails to take into account the fact that to win a war you must put troops on the ground. None of the surveillance and target acquisition hardware has thus far provided the dominate battle space knowledge it promised. In both Iraq and Afghanistan, commanders at all levels were forced to try and gain their own local intelligence and were faced with engagements by forces that they had no prior knowledge of. Any protracted land engagement by U.S. Forces is accompanied by nation building operations after the conclusion of major combat operations. U.S. forces then have to engage on some level with the local population. This Capabilities Based thinking leaves the U.S. Military mostly unprepared to a conduct a likely COIN Operation. It is unreasonable to think that a major defeat on a conventional battlefield will lead to a population accepting a force of outsiders coming into their country and dictating policy no matter how good their intentions.I doubt very highly, Sir that I would need to site an example of this to you as you have for more schooling than I do. Suffice it to say there are many historical examples of this.

  2. In closing, Sir, I have no illusions that this little essay will change your thinking drastically. You've been doing this far longer than I have. I have no PHD or college to speak of, I was an NCO not a Colonel and the list goes on. I would simply say, respectfully Sir, please be careful that you don't advocate something that will leave a grunt like myself flat footed and reliant on machines when what he really needs is the right training and equipment to fight. I love tanks and I love A 10's especially in a firefight but they will never replace the Army and Marine Infantryman. I apologize for the length and several posts I just had a large thought I wanted to get out onto print. If you did read through all of this thank you for doing so. If you care to respond my email is Arnie2407@yahoo.com

    James A Arnett