Thursday, January 10, 2013

An Open Letter to America Regarding Chuck Hagel

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Informed by the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989, the Gulf War in 1991, the management of the Soviet breakup throughout the 1990s, the attacks on 9/11, the rise of China in the 21st century, the global war waged by religious extremists, and the economic shifts around the world unfolding today; the United States has sustained a global garrison of military force and forward deployed naval power supported by military superiority in the air and space in an all encompassing National Security Strategy towards "shaping" the global environment, sanctioning and punishing bad regional actors, and responding globally to transnational threats. This National Security Strategy of global maintenance and peace enforcement since the end of the cold war has almost exclusively been executed by the military forces of the United States, and only in select cases over the last half century has it been augmented sufficiently by other elements of national power via diplomacy and treasury sanctions.

As a result, since May of 1989 the United States has been at war for about the same number of months the United States has been at peace, and we can only find peaceful months by not counting military operations in Haiti, Somalia, Bosnia, Philippines, and other military enforced foreign policies like the sustained No-Fly Zone over Iraq in the 1990s.

For almost a quarter of a century, military forces have been engaged in indefinitely sustained global military operations requiring an unprecedented deployment and operational tempo straining every level of the Department of Defense. As the nation added two wars in the Middle East and Southwest Asia over the last decade while sustaining our military garrisons across Europe, Korea, and Japan, the cost of sustaining the National Security Policy and National Defense Strategy that has barely changed since the end of the cold war has become untenable as the nations economic problems have finally caught up to us.

With the withdrawal of military forces from the theaters of war in the Middle East and Southwest Asia, and with the economic challenges having slowly piled up to the point that politicians are left with no good options in fixing the nations financial situation, the time has come for the nation to adopt a new more sustainable National Security Policy and National Defense Strategy better suited to the demands of changing global economic and geopolitical conditions and affordable under the new financial realities of a nation straining to fund a government that spends far more money than tax revenues can support.

It is against this backdrop - in this critical strategic moment in our nations history - as a nation still fighting a war in Afghanistan with no definitive political victory conditions, and at a time when our nations most important economic partner China is engaged in a relentless cyber espionage campaign against us in the pursuit of stealing our most advanced technologies, the Democratic President of the United States Barack Obama has appointed former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel to be the Secretary of Defense to usher in the most important strategic realignment of the United States Department of Defense since the end of the cold war.

This is the most important moment of legitimate strategic defense realignment for America heading into the 21st century, but no one is treating it that way, yet. The New York Times has a passionate defense of Chuck Hagel's credentials regarding the issues of Iran and defending Israel - issues that are decided by the entire National Security cabinet btw, and for good measure The Washington Post, CNN, Foreign Policy, ABC News, TIME, and every celebrity in defense willing to speak up is also passionately defending Chuck Hagel on these important but in context peripheral issues. We even have plenty of commentary regarding Chuck Hagel's incredibly strategic irrelevant political position on homosexuality in the military.

But we have yet to see a single serious word spoken by Chuck Hagel reported by the media as it relates to the magnitude of the job the man has been nominated for.


We are in for a whole lot of stupid with the Chuck Hagel nomination process ramping up unless something changes in Washington DC and people suddenly decide to become serious. This is normally about the time where James Joyner at the Atlantic Council would write a very smart article and throw the bullshit flag at the media with a compelling editorial that would get everyone to screw their head back on tight enough to think about the magnitude of the job Chuck Hagel has been nominated for. Unfortunately for America, Chuck Hagel is coming from the Atlantic Council, so we are going to go without the wisdom of James Joyner on this particular nomination.

The partisan think tanks have to date demonstrated the inability to be serious about the Chuck Hagel nomination. AEI is currently featuring an article by Jonah Goldberg on their website with remarkably sophomoric personal attack rhetoric that describes Hagel as "never overburdened with too heavy a reputation for insight, knowledge, or humility." The Heritage Foundation fails to inspire a single intelligent thought among their readers with the headline "Iran Endorses Obama Pick Hagel for U.S. Secretary of Defense." For slightly more informative commentary, which is unfortunately little more than a partisan endorsement rather than an original opinion or serious commentary equal to the magnitude of the nomination, see Hayes Brown over at Think Progress.

It is hard for me to imagine that anyone who is serious or expects to ever be taken seriously regarding issues related to the National Defense of the United States wouldn't have legitimate questions for any nominee for Secretary of Defense at this point in time in American history. Every single person in military service or employee of the Department of Defense is going to be directly impacted professionally to a greater degree by this nomination than any other leadership or policy change within the Department of Defense for the rest of their career.

It is a close competition between Michele Flournoy and Ashton Carter if the evaluation for Secretary of Defense is specific to the most qualified person to assume the Secretary of Defense position at this point in time in American history, so the appointment of Chuck Hagel by President Obama is unquestionably in part due to partisan politics and not singularly about merit. The problem with the appointment by President Obama heavily emphasizing politics is that it raises legitimate questions whether the President himself understands the incredible importance of the nomination as the nation begins a transition towards a new National Defense Strategy that will guide our nation well into the 21st century. We are talking about the realignment of national defense priorities for the worlds only superpower, and when appointing Hagel it doesn't help when the President himself leads by making the issue political partisanship.

The President chose the Republican Chuck Hagel in belief it will be politically easier for a Republican nominee to execute and manage the budgetary and force structure contractions that are coming to the Department of Defense while the Department of Defense realigns towards a sustainable National Defense Strategy executed with a smaller military. Keep in mind, it doesn't matter who the nominee is, whether it is Chuck Hagel, Michele Flournoy, or Ashton Carter - the contraction of the Department of Defense Budget is going to happen this year, and that will result in major changes to the force structure of the United States military. The next Secretary of Defense will be the most important decision maker in the room determining what strategic choices are made and those choices will drive decision making for the future force structure of the United States military heading into the next quarter of the 21st century.

What are Chuck Hagel's priorities when making difficult strategic choices as they relate to the Department of Defense's role in protecting American interests globally? How does Chuck Hagel envision the United States sustaining global assurance to allies and presence in regions of national interest with a contracted Department of Defense budget? What is the role of American military power heading into the next quarter of the 21st century? What is Chuck Hagel's vision for the National Defense Strategy of the United States in the 21st century? How will Chuck Hagel prioritize his strategic choices related to force structure? Given the questions already related to America's interests as they relate to our alliance with Israel, what exactly are the greater ends of US National Defense Strategy including outside the Middle East? Which means should be prioritized to execute towards those ends? How will the DoD execute policy with a smaller budget and different force structure? Contraction will be managed under what guiding principles?

These are only a few of the dozens of important questions that need to be asked by serious people who demand a serious response from any nominee for Secretary of Defense at this moment in time, and yet all we are reading about in the media is Chuck Hagel's position on Israel and Iran, and whether Chuck Hagels views on homosexuality in the military are different today than they were ten years ago.

If Chuck Hagel wants to be Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel needs to step up and start talking like he is the serious person the nation needs right now to take on the serious challenges facing the Department of Defense, or he can continue to dodge uninformed and completely irrelevant questions by the political bitch class of Washington DC and insure his status in American history as the wrong man at the wrong moment. This nomination is Chuck Hagel's to lose, and he is playing right into the political games of his critics. If he keeps talking about the interests of Israel or entertains the focus of his record related to homosexuality, he is going to get an enema from the FOGO crowd who will spade him sideways through his critics the second he tries to be credible in the Pentagon on the very serious issues facing the Department of Defense. By entertaining the irrelevant issues he is being blasted for by his critics, he is slowly becoming the self-fulfilling prophecy of failure his critics are predicting he will be.

Chuck Hagel either needs to get serious by talking to the media about the serious issues facing the DoD to prove himself to be the right man for job at this moment in time, or move over so serious people like Michele Flournoy or Ashton Carter can step up and wear the big boy pants.

As for his Republican critics, it makes no sense that he would even care what they are saying. I haven't read a single article written by someone described as an Expert working at Heritage or AEI that has prioritized a strategic choice facing the Department of Defense related to force structure to date in the 21st century, so it isn't like Hagel would be going without some important unique insight or advice on upcoming difficult strategic choices by ignoring them completely, unless we describe the calls for "more government spending" for defense in the name of Reagan conservatism as somehow insightful advice.

Chuck Hagel, either step up or step aside. These are serious times, are you the serious leader needed in the Department of Defense in this time of strategic realignment?

If you are, you have my full support.

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