Chuck Hagel in his own words

The new Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, is the executive in charge of the largest government entity in the world if you combine budget, personnel, equipment, and the 1,000 United States military installations around the globe. The organization is so large; it is hard to imagine the challenge of knowing what one needs to know in order to succeed as an effective executive. It is even more challenging to grasp the unknown pitfalls and dangers that Hagel will face as the executive in charge of Defense. And then, we have the President, Congress and the corporate providers for the national security state (aka the military industrial complex). (Image: Secretary of Defense)

Hagel endured a bizarre interrogation by former Senate colleagues. John McCain (R-AZ) was apoplectic, at his worst, and disturbing for most of his interrogation. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) somehow combined insouciance and condescension, playing Felix to McCain’s Oscar.

Hagel’s biography is of real interest: raised in a small town in Nebraska; served in combat with his brother in Vietnam; entrepreneur; executive; Senator, and now in charge of defense. He published a book in 2008, entitled America: Our Next Chapter (Hagel, Chuck; Kaminsky, Peter (2008-07-08). Ecco. Kindle Edition)

Hagel outlined his views on foreign and domestic policies. I provide passages below without much commentary. Given the parameters of suitability for this position, it seems to me that Chuch Hagel is one of the very best choices imaginable. Kudos to the president for what looks like a mid-administration correction; hopefully a shift from bellicose talk and proxy wars to something more palatable, intelligent, with a focus on people rather than being “tough enough.” Hagel is tough. He doesn’t need to prove it to anybody.


All Quotations from America: Our Next ChapterNational service requires asking intelligent questions

:I still believe, as my father did, in serving our country. But history has taught me that we must require better answers than we have been given before we ask our young men and women to sacrifice their lives for a greater cause. And when lives and families are put at risk, those questions should be probing, serious, and unrelenting. I would go so far as to say that it is unpatriotic not to ask them. I do not believe the people’s representatives pressed these questions strongly enough in the run-up to the Iraq War.At the end of the day, I don’t think any leader gets into trouble for saying exactly what he or she thinks, provided you are informed and educated on the issues.

The challenges we face:

Counterbalancing this story of progress (the Marshall Plan, etc.) are new, more global threats: Terror, religious extremism, nuclear proliferation, the scourge of new and virulent health pandemics, poverty and despair, and the specter of ecological collapse through climate change are not challenges that can be met and overcome through the imposition of one nation’s will and unrivaled military power.

Vietnam – “a mixture of hubris and folly

Had the intellectual giants of the Kennedy administration—in a mixture of hubris and folly—not upped the ante in Vietnam, there would probably have been no Tonkin Gulf resolution, no U.S. buildup, no political paralysis that kept LBJ and Nixon from extricating our country from what came to be a tragic mess. I think of the fifty-eight thousand students from classes like Mr. Sheridan’s all over America who died in Vietnam and wonder what they’d be doing today. That’s always one the great tragedies and consequences of war: the “what ifs”.

Iraq: repeating the mistakes of Vietnam, inventing new mistakes

To the astonishment of those of us who lived through the agony of Vietnam, these lessons were ignored in the run-up to the Iraq War. The administration cherry-picked intelligence to fit its policy, used fear and the threat of terrorism to intensify its war sloganeering (particularly in speeches by the vice president), and dampened the possibility of dissent by denying that it had decided to go to war even though it had already made that decision before the debate even began.An American military operation in Iraq could require a commitment in Iraq that could last for years and extend well beyond the day of Saddam’s departure. The American people need to understand the political, by the vice president), and dampened the possibility of dissent by denying that it had decided to go to war even though it had already made that decision before the debate even began.

Why we invaded Iraq – a myopic neoconservative visionSo why did we invade Iraq? I believe it was the triumph of the so-called neoconservative ideology, as well as Bush administration arrogance and incompetence that took America into this war of choice. This ideology presented a myopic vision of a democratic Middle East that would inject a large permanent American force presence in the region to act as the guarantor of a regional realignment.

An apology for his vote in Iraq (although he called out Bush for violating the resolution and maintained his oversight with real vigor)

I regret my vote that gave the president war-making authority. I believed him and his advisors. Like each member of Congress who cast a vote on this issue, I have to take responsibility for that decision.

Israel – experience and reality

One day the Israeli military arrived with bulldozers and ripped up acres of olives. “Why are you doing this?” the old man asked them. The answer was that they were making way for a security wall. Not only did it go through the heart of the olive groves, but it walled off the stream, without which the olive trees would not survive. Without its precious crop, it was only a matter of time until that village would go the way of its olive trees. As the old man told the story, the villagers who were drinking tea with us looked on, occasionally nodding or joining in with a word or two. Clearly they still had a sense of dignity and self-respect, but also, the look of weary resignation and defeat.

Addressing lack of hope, economic deprivation as the “root cause” of terrorism

Failure to address this root cause [of terrorism] will enable Hezbollah, Hamas—and terrorist groups even more troublesome—to gather the support of disaffected Muslims everywhere. This dynamic continues to undermine America’s standing in the region and threatens the governments of Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia at a time when their support is critical for any Mideast resolution.

A peace agreement can only work if it is supported by a massive economic development and assistance program for the Palestinians. If Palestinian leaders are willing to take risks for peace, they must have the possibility of economic benefits or the process is doomed to collapse. The lack of such aid and investment was the reason that Prime Minister Sharon’s “Gaza First” plan to unilaterally withdraw Israeli settlers and military presence from Gaza turned from opportunity to tragedy with Hamas’s takeover of Gaza in 2007.America’s approach to the Middle East must be consistent and sustained.

At its core, there will always be a special and historic bond with Israel exemplified by our continued commitment to Israel’s defense. But this commitment cannot be at the expense of our Arab and Muslim relationships, which are in crisis. All of our interests will suffer if we are perceived as being implacably and irreversibly at odds with the Arab and Muslim world. Achieving a lasting resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict is the best means of pushing political and religious extremists to the margins.

Iran – recognizing a great culture

One of the world’s oldest civilizations, Iran is a proud nation with a long, rich history. It is also, at the same time, a nation that is a state sponsor of terrorism. We must understand “both” Irans and factor both into our policies and strategic interests. Iran is not going away and whether we like it or not, there will be no peace or stability in the Middle East without Iran’s participation. Iran has been a central power in the Middle East for centuries and will remain so.

America’s refusal to recognize Iran’s status as a legitimate power does not decrease Iran’s influence, but rather increases it. Engagement creates dialogue and opportunities to identify common interests, as well as to clarify disagreements. In a hazy, volatile environment, careless rhetoric and military movements that one side may believe are required to demonstrate resolve and strength can be misinterpreted as preparations for war. The risk of inadvertent conflict because of miscalculation is great.

Stupid talk of war with Iran – (like Vietnam and Iraq)

I followed my letter to the president with a speech to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, where I warned that “loose talk of World War III, intimidation, threats, bellicose speeches only heighten the dangers we face in the world.The United States must be prepared to act boldly and exploit opportunities to reframe our relationship with Iran. Engagement should not be limited to government-to-government contact. We must find new and imaginative ways to reach out to the Iranian people.

Legacy of colonialism

Where does the hatred come from? In part, America is its target because we are the sole great power in the world, and, as the preeminent representation of the West, we are reaping the accumulated resentments of centuries of colonialism. In this connection, you will recall that for hundreds of years, most of the countries of Islam were ruled and exploited by European powers. In a culture where honor and shame count for much, generations of Muslims felt degraded by the actions of the West. Their feelings of impotence turned to rage. It became easy for the most disaffected Muslims to connect their personal misery with the subjugation of their people and their religion. Look at the Palestinian.

America: Our Next Chapter (Hagel, Chuck; Kaminsky, Peter (2008-07-08). Ecco. Kindle Edition)


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Michael Collins

DC area

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