There are good reasons to oppose the confirmation of Senator Chuck Hagel. His views on nuclear disarmament are out of the mainstream. His characterization of Jewish influence over Congress and the presence of a malevolent “Jewish lobby” in Washington are, at best, bizarre or, at worst, anti-Semitic. Someone who characterizes his role in office as not making policy clearly doesn’t understand the job. Then there is the fact that unlike his two predecessors, he has almost no managerial experience.
But the best reason to vote down his nomination is that anyone who would want the job has to be out of his mind. The department he will take over has been ground down by a decade of war. It has also had to endure some $800 billion in budget cuts dating back to 2009. On his first day in the Pentagon he will face the man-made disaster of a Continuing Resolution (CR) coupled with sequestration. Each of the services has described the impact of this double tsunami as catastrophic. But the pain isn’t limited to a single year; the effects of a year-long (or even multi-year CR) and the budget caps imposed by sequestration will ripple through defense plans for a decade or more. So however he copes with the impacts of dramatically reduced defense spending in FY2013 is nothing compared to what the new Secretary of Defense will have to do in putting together a new FY2014 budget – which goes into effect in seven months.
We have been warned that if sequestration takes effect then the new defense strategy published a year ago will be unsustainable. So in the midst of having to deal with a massive budget problem in FY2013 and a revised budget for FY2014, the new Secretary will also have to participate in the development of an entirely new defense strategy. Perhaps this can be made part of the next Quadrennial Defense Review which is supposed to be written this year. If those are two separate documents then the Secretary’s workload just increased significantly. Even if Senator Hagel isn’t a policy maker he would be responsible for the government’s single largest cabinet department and all its activities.
If the new Secretary gets through the near-term crises he will face the need to radically downsize the U.S. military, cut back or even cancel major acquisition programs and essentially fire lots of people. Most challenging of all, he will have to deal with the excess infrastructure that weighs heavily on the Pentagon’s balance sheet. With sequestration and the resulting downsizing of the military, Senator Hagel will have to confront the need for another round of base closures. This should make him even more unpopular on Capitol Hill than he is already.
I have not said anything yet about the Secretary’s primary responsibility: safeguarding the United States, its peoples and its global interests. Anyone who thinks that the next four years are going to be peaceful is delusional. As the United States cuts back on its military other states such as North Korea, Iran and China are building up their forces and acquiring or expanding their nuclear arsenals. It should be expected that these states, and possibly others, feeling their own strength growing and seeing U.S. military power eroding, will wish to exploit this new balance of power. In addition, the area from North Africa through the Middle East and across to Southeast Asia is in ferment, turmoil and even conflict. If anything, demands on U.S. military forces and, hence, on the time and attention of the Secretary of Defense will increase in this period. Forget about taking nights and weekends off.
Looking at the situation confronting the next Secretary of Defense, the best favor the Senate could do for Chuck Hagel is vote against his confirmation. That might also be doing the American people a favor.
Find Archived Articles: