As expected, President Obama named former Senator Chuck Hagel to be the next Secretary of Defense. Hagel is a decorated war veteran with two Purple Hearts for service in the Vietnam War. He has also served two terms in the United States Senate. In addition, he served as Co-Chair of the president’s Intelligence Advisory Board, as well as on the Council on Foreign Relations. His experience in the private sector is equally impressive.
In 2007, Hagel was one of a few Republicans who supported a Democratic-proposed troop withdrawal from Iraq within four months. In referring to Iraq and Afghanistan, he stated, “We can help them buy time or develop, but we cannot control their fates.”
The calculus of power between Iraq and Iran has been a delicate balancing act. During the 80s, Iraq killed just under 200,000 Iranians while losing 60,000 Iraqi lives. Disturbing the balance of power in the region is an act with unknown consequences. By August of 1988, the UN obtained a mutually agreed upon ceasefire between Iran and Iraq.
The early 90s brought the Desert Storm coalition to Iraq to stop its aggressions in Kuwait. A decade later, the U.S. forces returned to Iraq to depose Saddam Hussein despite the fact that George Bush the elder decided against changing the Iraqi regime in the early 90s.
The area is in flux even today, with Iraq trying to rebuild its war-torn economy and Iran faltering under the weight of numerous sanctions. The decision to assert military power requires a complex analysis of the past history of the region, the current balance of power between Iraq and Iran, as well as the willingness and capacity of either nation to undermine its neighbors.
Hagel voted affirmatively for the Chemical and Biological Weapons Threat Reduction Act, which sets forth criminal penalties for possession of chemical or biological weapons. He cosponsored the American Missile Protection Act, deploying an effective national missile defense system capable of defending the US against limited ballistic missile attacks.
Hagel was considered briefly by the Obama team to be a running-mate in the 2008 election. His experience does qualify him to be seriously considered for the position of defense secretary. There are some areas where disagreements may surface. For instance, Hagel voted in favor of the Patriot Act. This vote will not endear him to all Libertarians.
President Obama nominated Hagel for his experience in government and the private sector, as well as his principled stances in containing our involvement in foreign wars. Most importantly, Hagel is needed to bring a fresh outlook regarding the role of the Pentagon in asserting American military power in the world, as well as in the all-important area of cost containment.
Hagel can look forward to right-sizing the Pentagon budget while recognizing the limitations of the notion of asserting America’s military power to further the idea of Manifest Destiny. Another constraining factor impacts the Pentagon: nature itself. The eastern coastline of the United States has been under heavy assault from a number of major hurricanes and floods.
The aftermath of these natural disasters has required years of rebuilding and the active intervention of the Army Corps of Engineers. Recently, Hurricane Sandy proved to be unprecedented in the northeast corridor. Now, the Defense Department must consider the impact of weatherization as an important consideration in protecting citizens from great harm.
Right now, there are important foreign policy challenges in the world. Examples are the unwillingness of Iran to cooperate fully in eliminating its pursuit of nuclear weapons components and related technologies. Syria has had social unrest together with harsh governmental policies in recent years, yet Assad will not step down. In addition, North Korea has expressed interest in reunification with the South.
All of these issues, individually and collectively will pose considerable challenges to our diplomatic and defense efforts well into the future. Ultimately, the United States must discover the proper balance between diplomacy, the use of soft power, sanctions and an assertive military posture to deflect the challenges which the future will most certainly present. Lastly, Chuck Hagel will be running the Defense Department, if confirmed. The overall efforts in the execution of soft power and diplomacy will be done by the diplomatic team, as well as the new Secretary of State: John Kerry. Overall policy will be set by President Obama.