We read the senator's 2008 book on defense so that you don't have to.
- By J. Dana StusterJ. Dana Stuster is an assistant editor at Foreign Policy. He has studied at the American University of Beirut and graduated in 2010 with degrees in English and International Relations from the University of California, Davis. Before coming to FP, his work appeared in the Atlantic and the National Interest, among other publications.
What would SecDef Chuck Hagel do? With all the speculation, FP decided to go back to his 2008 manifesto, America: Our Next Chapter.
America presents Hagel as an Eisenhower conservative — low budgets and no wars. A prominent critic of the war in Iraq, he characterizes the invasion as "the triumph of the so-called neoconservative ideology." With frequent reference to his experience as a drafted infantryman in Vietnam, Hagel gives the impression that he opposes any war of choice. That put him at odds with the Bush administration, but it may also put him at odds with the liberal interventionists in the Obama camp.
Nor is he a natural fit with the Obama administration’s signature Asia pivot policy. He is wary of any strategy that smacks of "economic, political, and military containment" of China: "this kind of belligerence would be a disaster for our two nations and for the world…. such a policy would fail." Of course, the Pentagon has been increasing its naval presence in the Pacific, which, however many times U.S. officials deny it, looks like military containment, at least in Beijing.
On Iran, Hagel seems even more dovish — though his thoughts may have changed in the four years since the book’s publication. He writes at length about his concerns over policies that back Iran into a corner. "Isolating nations is risky," he writes. "It turns them inward, and makes their citizens susceptible to the most demagogic fear mongering." The answer, he says, is engagement. "Distasteful as we may find that country’s rulers, the absence of any formal governmental relations with Iran ensures that we will continue to conduct this delicate international relationship through the press and speeches, as well as through surrogates and third parties, on issues of vital strategic importance to our national interests. Such a course can only result in diplomatic blind spots that will lead to misunderstandings, miscalculation, and, ultimately, conflict."
So Hagel supports direct negotiations with Iran. He laments the lack of diplomatic ties and toys with the idea of a consulate in Tehran. He also reflects fondly on meetings he had with Iranian ambassadors to the United Nations in New York.
Hagel even flirts with the idea that an Iranian bomb wouldn’t be the end of the world. "[T]he genie of nuclear armaments is already out of the bottle, no matter what Iran does. In this imperfect world, sovereign nation-states possessing nuclear weapons capability (as opposed to stateless terrorist groups) will often respond with some degree of responsible, or at least sane, behavior. These governments, however hostile they may be toward us, have some appreciation of the horrific results of a nuclear war and the consequences they would suffer." Hagel’s realpolitik might make Stephen Walt proud, but it may unnerve those on both sides of the aisle who believe that Iran must be stopped before it gets a nuclear weapon. Even President Obama has said that a nuclear Iran cannot be contained.
Many conservatives will recoil at the praise Hagel lavishes on the United Nations, and indeed, if secretary of defense falls through, he could well be on the next U.N. ambassador shortlist. Though he concedes it has "limitations and problems" and frequently "succumbs to the worst forms of political posturing," Hagel waxes poetic about its essential role in building coalitions on pressing issues from nuclear proliferation to global poverty, and praises its work in peacekeeping and post-conflict transitions. "[T]he United Nations," he writes, "is the only international organization that can help bring the consensus that is indispensable in finding solutions and resolving [international security] crises." Hagel’s love for the institution extends back to high school, when he participated in model United Nations; he represented the Soviet Union, to hone his debate skills. As for the critics, Hagel’s heard it all before, during the run-up to the Iraq war, when he and others were told there was "[n]o time for diplomacy or to build a coalition, that would be selling out our national interest to the weak-kneed United Nations!"
Oddly, Hagel almost completely avoids the subject of Afghanistan. What he does say is that it is grinding down the U.S. military, both physically and psychologically, wasting money at an alarming rate, and that he still believes an opportunity was missed when the United States refused to negotiate with the Taliban in 2003. People looking for answers about how Hagel feels about the war that could be his to wind down would best look elsewhere, but he does give the impression that he would be happy to be done with it.
The military should be happy to have him, though he concedes that the Pentagon needs to trim the fat. "Bloated budgets and lack of effective oversight and review are symptoms of deeper, structural inadequacy in our military posture," he writes, but his recommendations seem to amount to closing loopholes in contracting. In fact, he suggests growing the force to reduce U.S. reliance on security contractors. For all his talk of low budgets, his ire falls mostly on entitlement spending. "Our military has been pushed beyond the breaking point," he writes. He discusses his desire to share military burdens beyond the 1 percent of Americans who serve, better incentivize retention, and build a modern, adaptive force.
To this end, he cites President Eisenhower’s farewell address (yes, the "military-industrial complex" speech). Throughout the book, Eisenhower emerges as the lodestar for Hagel’s ideology. He’s characterized as "a paragon as a soldier and a general, and as a leader, he understood…that war, once it is unleashed, is always uncontrollable, unpredictable, and painful far beyond the predications of those who beat the drum the loudest." Hagel wouldn’t mind being thought of this way himself…someday.
Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.
A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.
Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C.| The Cable |
Kevin Baron is a national security reporter for Foreign Policy, covering defense and military issues in Washington. He is also vice president of the Pentagon Press Association. Baron previously was a national security staff writer for National Journal, covering the "business of war." Prior to that, Baron worked in the resident daily Pentagon press corps as a reporter/photographer for Stars and Stripes. For three years with Stripes, Baron covered the building and traveled overseas extensively with the secretary of defense and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, covering official visits to Afghanistan and Iraq, the Middle East and Europe, China, Japan and South Korea, in more than a dozen countries. From 2004 to 2009, Baron was the Boston Globe Washington bureau's investigative projects reporter, covering defense, international affairs, lobbying and other issues. Before that, he muckraked at the Center for Public Integrity. Baron has reported on assignment from Asia, Africa, Australia, Europe, the Middle East and the South Pacific. He was won two Polk Awards, among other honors. He has a B.A. in international studies from the University of Richmond and M.A. in media and public affairs from George Washington University. Originally from Orlando, Fla., Baron has lived in the Washington area since 1998 and currently resides in Northern Virginia with his wife, three sons, and the family dog, The Edge.| The E-Ring |
Gordon Lubold is a national security reporter for Foreign Policy. He is also the author of FP's Situation Report, an e-mailed newsletter that is blasted out to more than 70,000 national security and foreign affairs subscribers each morning that includes the top nat-sec news, breaking news, tidbits, nuggets and what he likes to call "candy." Before arriving at FP, he was a senior advisor at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington, where he wrote on national security and foreign policy. Prior to his arrival at USIP, he was a defense reporter for Politico, where he launched the popular Morning Defense early morning blog and tip-sheet. Prior to that, he was the Pentagon and national security correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor, and before that he was the Pentagon correspondent for the Army Times chain of newspapers. He has covered conflict in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other countries in South Asia, and has reported on military matters in sub-Saharan Africa, East Asia and Latin America as well as at American military bases across the country. He has spoken frequently on the sometimes-contentious relationship between the military and the media as a guest on numerous panels. He also appears on radio and television, including on CNN, public radio's Diane Rehm and To the Point, and C-SPAN's Washington Journal. He lives in Alexandria with his wife and two children.| Report |