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January 07, 2013

Chuck Hagel Isn't Just A Bad Choice For Secretary Of Defense, He's A Fundamentally Unserious One

We're going to have a hot mess of a confirmation fight over Obama's pick of Chuck Hagel to head DoD. Right now the battle lines are being drawn over some hot button political issues like how much Hagel loves or hates Israel, gays and the Iraq surge.

Honestly, I find those mostly irrelevant to Hagel's consideration. Should Hagel's views on these matters form part of people's decision on him? Of course but there are much larger issues that should be explored and considered as well.

The Secretary of Defense is in every sense a huge job with two main parts...management and strategic.

Does Hagel have the experience and skill set to run not just the world's premiere military force but also one of its largest bureaucracies? There are about 2.25 million men and women in uniform (including reserves/Guard) and another 800,000 or so civilian employees who work for the Department of Defense. Managing that many people across the globe on a budget of $664 billion is as much of the job as sitting in the White House Situation room watching live video of SEAL raids.

Hagel has held some small and mid-level type executive positions (Deputy Administrator of the VA back in 1981) but nothing that seems likely to prepare him for the challenges a Secretary of Defense has to cope with.

At a time when the military is going to have to do as much, if not more, with less a strong manager is going to be key in the years ahead. There's simply no reason to believe that Hagel can do that.

Sure he can have a top-notch Deputy handle the nuts and bolts of that for him (though there is already one there who was floated as a potential choice, so he's unlikely to stay) but ultimately the man with the big office has to drive the organization.

If Hagel doesn't wow with his administrative skills, then surely his strategic vision is world class. I don't see any evidence of that.

Here's Hagel in 2009 writing about the nature of the post-Cold War/War on Terror world

We can no longer hold ourselves to narrow "single issue" engagement when dealing with nations such as China, Russia, India, Brazil, Turkey or South Korea. The United States needs all these countries and many more if we are to engage the most dangerous challenges -- not one at a time but all together. Our relationships with these nations have matured since World War II, as these nations have matured. Does anyone believe we will get to a responsible resolution on Iran without Russia? There's a reason we are part of a Group of 20 rather than a G-8. Even the world's largest economies cannot handle today's problems alone.

Global collaboration does not mean retreating from our standards, values or sovereignty. Development of seamless networks of intelligence gathering and sharing, and strengthening alliances, diplomatic cooperation, trade and development can make the biggest long-term difference and have the most lasting impact on building a more stable and secure world. There really are people and organizations committed to destroying America, and we need an agile, flexible and strong military to face these threats. How, when and where we use force are as important as the decision to use it. Relying on the use of force as a centerpiece of our global strategy, as we have in recent years, is economically, strategically and politically unsustainable and will result in unnecessary tragedy -- especially for the men and women, and their families, who serve our country.

I don't know if deep down Hagel believes this stuff or if it's just think-tank pablum.


Yes, international cooperation is fine but we can't be blinded by some utopian vision that all countries share the same definition of what the right outcome is. Russia and China will cooperate with us when it's in their interests to do so or like Libya they'll sit it out if it doesn't cost them anything. But the idea that there's some sort of grand bargain to be struck that will address all or many of the major global problems is naive at best, dangerous at worst.

Whether China is maturing enough as a global power to see the value in a stable world regime is to be seen. But whatever value they place on a particular regime we can't be blind to the reality that they seem themselves as a regional and increasingly world leader. They will want stability once they have leveraged chaos and conflict to their maximum advantage. Russia is the same as are regional actors such as Iran and emerging powers such as Brazil.

To think we aren't in a near-zero sum competition even with "friends" and "partners" let alone professed enemies is ridiculous.

So Hagel's overall worldview is, to be charitable, questionable at best. Perhaps on specific issues he has some genuinely important insights. Again, I don't see any evidence of this.

Here's Hagel on the "Arab Spring" in February of 2011.

Continued long-standing U.S.-Egyptian military-to-military relationships will be vital to U.S. policy and Egypt's democratic transition. There are early positive signs that the Egyptian military establishment, now in charge in Egypt, is fulfilling its commitments to the Egyptian people. It convened a distinguished and credible panel of Christians, Muslims and respected jurists to revise the country's constitution. Military exchange programs over decades have exposed Egyptian military leaders to U.S. military doctrine and culture, including civilian control of the military and respect for human rights and rule of law. This built a foundation for personal and professional bonds between Egyptian and American generals. However, Egypt is still very much a work in progress.

Although we may be on the cusp of some real democratic reform in the Middle East, the future direction of other individual countries in this region cannot be generalized based upon Egypt.

Yes well, history has shown that Hagel's belief in the soothing influence of Egypt's military was badly misplaced. Yes, this is hindsight but it's not as if there was a dearth of voices waring that the fall of Mubarak would lead to the take over of Egypt by the Muslim Brotherhood.

And oh yeah, he thinks we should talk to Hamas and we should talk to Hamas and opposed sanctions on Iran (these are US security issues, not simply a stand in for how one feels about Israel). ">opposed sanctions on Iran (these are US security issues, not just a stand in for how he feels about Israel).

Recent Secretary's of Defense such as Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Robert Gates and Leon Panetta have combined high level management experience with extensive real world strategic thinking. Hagel fails on both these criteria.

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posted by DrewM. at 11:31 AM

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