December 20th, 2012
pejmanyousefzadeh

Is Chuck Hagel Smart Enough to Run the Pentagon?

As I see it, the next secretary of defense will be faced with—among other things—the following big-think policy challenges:

  • Figuring out the long term size and scope of the defense budget in light of the fiscal situation at home and the nature of American military commitments abroad—especially in Afghanistan and Iraq.
  • Figuring out the configuration of American force structure.
  • Figuring out the configuration of American force doctrine. Are we going to go small? Are we going to go small but continue to augment our counterinsurgency capabilities in the process? Are we going to go bigger?
  • Figuring out how the military will play with intelligence agencies like the CIA, the DIA and the NSA, as well as what the size and scope of the Pentagon’s intelligence structure is going to be.
  • Figuring out what steps it wants to take when it comes to the issue of defense transformation.
  • Figuring out what its long term doctrine is going to be regarding the use of drones in warfare.
  • Figuring out how best to run military tribunals, how best to administer indefinite detention, and what to finally do about the detention facility in Guantanamo Bay.
  • Trying to convince regional powers that are allies of the United States to take a greater role in their own defense.

I am sure that I am missing various other agenda items, but I figure that ticking off eight big ones will suffice for the moment. To state the incredibly obvious, most—if not all—of these agenda items cannot be kicked down the road by the next defense secretary. They are going to have to be addressed quickly and comprehensively. And all of this means that the next defense secretary has to be very smart, and very intellectually steeped in defense/national security policy. We need a deep thinker with excellent management skills to run the Pentagon.

I write the above as a prelude to linking to this column, in which David Ignatius rightly wonders whether Chuck Hagel really is all that and a bag of chips:

The harder puzzle for the White House is whether Hagel would be the best manager during an important inflection point in Pentagon history. The U.S. combat role in Afghanistan will be ending, and the services will be fighting over how to divide a shrinking budget.

Hagel brings some obvious pluses on both counts: As a Republican and a genuine military hero when he served as an enlisted man in Vietnam, he can give President Obama cover as he executes the withdrawal from Afghanistan. Hagel is angry about what he sees as the misconceived wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as perhaps only a combat veteran can be. If he had his way, the troops probably would have come home yesterday. But this impatience is also slightly worrying. The withdrawal will succeed only if our military leaves an Afghanistan that can hold together.

Hagel’s military record is surely one big reason why the president wants him. He’s a guy who, as Reed says, knows how to talk to the troops and has walked in their boots. He’s blunt, direct and impatient with pettifogging. In these traits, he’s similar to the current secretary, Leon Panetta, and his predecessor, Bob Gates. And like both of them, Hagel has a temper.

Gates was the most successful defense secretary in modern times, for reasons worth considering now. He understood how to manage the Pentagon and did it not by getting down in the weeds but by staying above them. He delegated the busywork to Pentagon bureaucrats and made the big decisions himself. He was effective partly because people were scared of him. They knew that if they crossed the secretary, they would get fired. This brought a rare accountability.

Hagel could do the tough, no-nonsense-boss part of the job. But Gates had another essential talent that will be harder to match. He was a genuine national-security intellectual, who had studied how to manage and motivate huge institutions when he was director of the CIA and at the National Security Council. He knew the big strategic things about defense policy, but he also knew the little technical things. Gates was such a sawed-off shotgun of a guy that it was easy to miss that he was also a subtle thinker.

Nobody who knows Hagel would describe him as a defense intellectual. He’s more blunt than nuanced. How would he steer Pentagon procurement decisions in this age of new technologies and strategic matrices? I’m not sure. How would he manage the chiefs in their knife fights over the budget? Again, I’m not sure.

Well, we need to be sure. And needless to say, demanding serious and detailed answers of Hagel regarding these issues is not some neocon/Greater Israel/Jewish lobby/AIPAC machination designed to serve the interests of people Andrew Sullivan and Stephen Walt hate with a Gollumesque passion. If Hagel can give serious and detailed answers regarding these and other issues, I will be favorably impressed and I will write as much. If not, he has no business whatsoever being the next secretary of defense.

December 14th, 2012
pejmanyousefzadeh

Because There’s No Revenge Like Petty Revenge

My onetime international relations professor Stephen Walt has a well-earned reputation for disliking Israel in particular and possibly disliking Jewish people in general. Like Walt, I identify as a realist when it comes to foreign policy. Unlike Walt, I am a classical realist while he is a defensive structural realist (or defensive neorealist), and also, I don’t viscerally hate Israel or cause people to suspect that I viscerally hate my fellow Jews.

I should be used to Walt’s fixation on Israel and nothing he writes about the subject ought to shock me anymore. And yet, while endorsing the idea of making Chuck Hagel the next secretary of defense, Walt still caused me to find a way to be smacked with gob. Consider the following:

Having lost out on Susan Rice, Obama is unlikely to put forward a nominee he’s not willing to fight for or whom he thinks he might lose. So if Hagel is his pick to run the Pentagon, you can bet Obama will go to the mattresses for him. And what better way for Obama to pay back Benjamin Netanyahu for all the “cooperation” Obama received from him during the first term, as well as Bibi’s transparent attempt to tip the scale for Romney last fall?

(Emphasis mine.) So now, apparently we are picking a secretary of defense based on how much the Israeli prime minister might dislike said secretary of defense. How very interesting. Of course, this raises a couple of questions:

  • Obamaphiles are fond of telling us that far from being a hater of Israel (like, say, Stephen Walt), the president is a stalwart ally of the country. Are we saying that there is no better way for him to prove his bona fides as a supporter of Israel than to make the president’s animus for Benjamin Netanyahu a factor in choosing the next secretary of defense?
  • If personal animus does indeed become a factor in choosing the next secretary of defense, doesn’t that mean the president isn’t and never was all that much of a supporter of Israel?
  • Do self-styled “realists” like Walt who counsel the president to pick a secretary of defense based in no small measure on personal animus for the Israeli prime minister really qualify as realists? I know that Walt calls himself a realist but his alleged ability to engage in a cold-eyed analysis of the workings of the international system in general and American interests in particular tends to take a backseat to his absolute hatred of Israel. Do genuine realists allow their judgment to be so clouded? I know I try not to let that happen but then again, I don’t happen to believe that the realist explanation for the workings of the international system and the behavior of nation-states somehow is consistently eclipsed by the workings and machinations of the nasty hobbitses Israel lobby.
  • Back in 2004, when there was talk about how much other world leaders wanted George W. Bush to lose to John Kerry, did Stephen Walt lose his … er … stuff, given the “transparent attempt” of various world leaders to “tip the scale” for Kerry 8 years ago? Because I strongly doubt it.

Oh, incidentally, Walt tells us that if Hagel is nominated, the president “can again demonstrate a genuine commitment to bipartisanship.” Yeah, sure; because Chuck Hagel is such a rock-ribbed Republican:

On November 1, just five days before this fall’s election, Hagel flew to Omaha, Neb., where he endorsed Democrat Bob Kerrey over Republican Deb Fischer in their narrowing Senate race. “There are a number of Hagel loyalists for whom that was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” says Sam Fischer, a Nebraska Republican operative (Sam is Deb Fischer’s nephew).

“He doesn’t do much or have much connection with Nebraska anymore,” says another prominent Republican operativein the state. In fact, Hagel, now a Virginia resident and a professor at Georgetown University, is no longer registered to vote in his home state. Nebraska Republican party chairman Mark Fahleson says he considers Hagel’s endorsement “an attempt to curry favor with the Obama administration.” He points out that Hagel, on the morning he flew to Omaha to throw his weight behind Kerrey, had a phone conversation with Vice President Joe Biden. “We have no idea what they talked about,” Fahleson says suggestively.

And Fahleson is not alone. Republican Nebraska senator Mike Johanns has labeled the Kerrey endorsement part of a campaign for a cabinet position. “[Hagel’s] been clear he’d love to be in the administration,” Johannes said last month. And, though Johanns called Hagel “one of my closest friends in politics,” he told the Associated Press that the endorsement was “a step in [Hagel’s] path to try to build those bona fides that he is truly an Obama person and deserves a place in his cabinet.” Responding to this comment during a press conference on the day of the endorsement, Hagel said that Johanns “doesn’t know anything about who I am.”

In 2010, Hagel further rankled Republicans by endorsing Democrat Joe Sestak in his Senate race against Republican Pat Toomey. According to the Washington Post, which claimed Hagel was “auditioning for a cabinet position,” the move was as personal as it was ideological: “The more he can show a willingness to put party aside to do what he believes is the right thing, the more attractive he will be to President Obama and his inner circle.”

Whatever the motives, Hagel’s Fischer endorsement in particular marked his increasing coziness with the Obama administration, which can be traced to the 2008 campaign. After blasting the Iraq surge as “the most dangerous foreign-policy blunder in this country since Vietnam,” Hagel joined then-senator Obama on a trip to Iraq. Though he has said his relationship with Arizona senator John McCain is “pretty deep,” he refused to give an official endorsement. Throughout the campaign, he didn’t do the McCain campaign any favors. “I’m very upset with John and some of the things he’s been saying,” Hagel said in May 2008. The following month, he indicated he would consider accepting a vice-presidential offer from Senator Obama. “Why wouldn’t you?” he said.

Or, you know, not.

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