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Defense Secretary Preaches to Choir

By       Message William Boardman       (Page 3 of 4 pages) Become a premium member to see this article and all articles as one long page.     Permalink

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The assumption that America is required to guide the world goes unquestioned, but within that context Hagel warned of "hubris," without defining or explaining it further. Loosely defined as extreme pride or arrogance, moral blindness, losing touch with reality -- hubris is that element in Greek tragedy that leads a heroic figure to self-destruction. An example of recent American hubris was the professed belief that America could establish democracy across the Middle East by waging aggressive war on Iraq.

What's the definition of the redefinition?

Obliquely, Hagel seemed to acknowledge this: "After more than a decade of costly, controversial, and at times open-ended war, America is redefining its role in the world." But nothing in his speech even hinted at actual "redefinition." Rather Hagel reiterated the same old definition, with a promise of carrying it out better, smarter, more sensitively, but without surrendering any authority:

"We have made mistakes.  We will continue to make mistakes.  But we cannot allow the overhanging threat of future miscalculation and mistakes to paralyze or intimidate our will and necessary decision-making today. In the 21st century, the United States must continue to be a force for, and an important symbol of, humanity, freedom, and progress for all mankind.  We must also make a far better effort to understand how the world sees us, and why.  We must listen more.  We must  listen more." [emphasis in original] 

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In addition to warning against hubris, Hagel also cautioned against "only looking inward" (without using the word isolationism). With the United States maintaining hundreds of military bases around the world and making almost half the world's military expenditures, actual American isolationism is a political chimera mostly used to spook those hesitant to launch the next invasion. 

"America's hard power will always be critical to fashioning enduring solutions to global problems," was the way Hagel put it, without acknowledging the irony that no enduring solutions to global problems yet exist. But the point is clear, American military power, when all is said, done, implied, and inferred, will remain the primary way America relates to the rest of the world, even though Hagel tried, somewhat contradictorily, to soften the point: "Military force must always remain an option -- but it should be an option of last resort.  The military should always play a supporting role, not the leading role, in America's foreign policy." 

Whatever the military budget should be, it shouldn't be cut more

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Having warned against a role the military has rarely, if ever played in American foreign policy, Hagel addressed his most immediate, specific concern -- the military budget:

"Just as overdependence on the military carries with it risks and consequences, letting our military strength atrophy would invite disaster". We must continue to have a military of unmatched fighting power". But today we face the danger that our current budget crisis -- and the steep, abrupt, and deep cuts imposed by sequestration -- will cause an unnecessary, strategically unsound, and dangerous degradation in military readiness and capability." 

Hagel asserted this ex cathedra, as if it were beyond question and needed no explanation.  And he did not explain it.  But he acknowledged the likely reality that some contraction of the American military budget would continue in the near future and offered "six areas of focus" for managing that contraction.  One of these was reducing the bureaucracy (already cut by 20% in places).  Another was reducing military readiness, so that the United States might not be prepared to fight everywhere at a moment's notice: "the President would have fewer options," Hagel said, later adding, "We will also favor a globally active and engaged force over a garrison force." Most interesting, in what could be seen as a trial balloon for reinstating a military draft, Hagel explained: 

"And our sixth priority is personnel and compensation policy.  This may be the most difficult.  Without serious attempts to achieve significant savings in this area -- which consumes roughly half of the DoD budget and is increasing every year -- we risk becoming an unbalanced force.  One that is well-compensated, but poorly trained and equipped, with limited readiness and capability.  Going forward, we will have to make hard choices in this area in order to ensure that our defense enterprise is sustainable for the 21st century."

The current military has about 1.3 million personnel of which about 1,000 are flag officers (generals and admirals).  In 1945, as World War II ended, there were almost ten times as many personnel (12 million) but only twice as many flag officers (2,000). In 2010, Defense Secretary Robert Gates recommended cutting 50 flag officers. So far, the hard choices have been made on 23. 

Who you calling a purveyor of violence? 

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Secretary Hagel concluded his CSIS speech quietly, using a quote from President Dwight D. Eisenhower's farewell address in 1961.  The quote Hagel chose was not Eisenhower's warning that "an immense military establishment and a large arms industry" was a threat to American values:

"In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military--industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists, and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals so that security and liberty may prosper together." 

Instead, Hagel went with this reinforcement of American myth and denial: 

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Vermonter living in Woodstock: elected to five terms (served 20 years) as side judge (sitting in Superior, Family, and Small Claims Courts); public radio producer, "The Panther Program" -- nationally distributed, three albums (at CD Baby), some (more...)

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