Chuck Hagel faces immediate challenges with sequestration

HagelBy T.J. Mayes

Former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel was sworn in as the 24th Secretary of Defense yesterday after a long confirmation battle in the Senate. He  takes office during a budget crisis that will have a profound effect the Defense Department.

The sequestration, the across-the-board spending cuts that will likely take place tomorrow, will trim $42.7 billion (7.9 percent) from the Defense Department budget for FY 2013. Outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta sounded a little alarmist when he claimed that the cuts will make the United States a “second-rate power,” but his view does underscore the reality that no one should really envy Chuck Hagel.

Hagel, who served as an infantry squad leader during the height of the Vietnam War and is the first former enlisted soldier to head the Pentagon, will need to immediately begin to mend fences on Capitol Hill. Ironically, his most vocal critics during the confirmation process will be his closest allies in the fight to keep the coffers open for the Pentagon. This shouldn’t indicate good will. Sen. Inhofe of Oklahoma, who had earlier insisted that Hagel was unualified to serve as Defense Secretary, sent an icy warning:

It is my hope that Senator Hagel will not want to be known as the secretary of defense responsible for overseeing the gutting of our military.

Sen. Reed of Rhode Island displayed more optimism:

He has got probably the best preparation one can have, given his military and executive and legislative experience. But it is a very daunting time.

The short-term discussion about sequestration overshadows some of the enormous long-term foreign policy and national security challenges we face. Hagel will oversee the withdrawal of 34,000 troops from Afghanistan by next year and the military operations associated with the president’s Grand Middle East Strategy, whatever that may be.

Hagel will also oversee the Pentagon’s plan to dramatically increase its Naval presence in Asia and the Middle East by 2020. This is ostensibly aimed at increasing the U.S. military and diplomatic investment in Asia, where a lot of the geopolitical action will be for the next several decades. Maintaining a balance of power in the region is important, so thinks the Obama State Department, and Hagel’s previous remarks about the role of India in the War in Afghanistan are still a little touchy.

It is likely that whenever Congress does get around to passing a budget, it will mandate a whole host of actions that must be taken by the Pentagon regarding cybersecurity. While not a star player in President Obama’s cybersecurity executive order, Hagel will likely be heavily involved in bureaucratic moves to address the digital frontier of war.

Hagel’s views on foreign policy mirror the Obama Doctrine, which has been described as “a form of realism unafraid to deploy American power but mindful that its use must be tempered by practical limits and a dose of self-awareness.”

This doesn’t matter much. The Obama Administration has run foreign and defense policy in a thoroughly Nixonian manner: it all flows through the White House. Thomas Donnelly of the American Enterprise Institute has criticized the White House on this front:

It should be an important job. But if the White House is calling all the shots, there’s not much left for the secretary to do

Chuck Hagel’s success or failure in this position will largely hinge on his ability to lobby Congress and engage in bureaucratic infighting.

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Posted by on February 28, 2013. Filed under Military,Recent News,Top News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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