Chuck Hagel delivers his speech at the National Defense University Wednesday. (DoD Photo/Glenn Fawcett.)
As promised, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel delivered his speech on defense policy at National Defense University on Wednesday, and it left a lot to be desired.
His goal, he said, was to discuss “the challenges posed by a changing strategic landscape and new budget constraints, the choices we have in responding to these challenges, and the opportunities that exist to fundamentally reshape the defense enterprise to better reflect 21st century realities.”
I’m not sure that most secretaries of defense—certainly not Bob Gates and Leon Panetta, Hagel’s predecessors—would see the budget constraints that face DoD as an “opportunity.” Both warned constantly, and incessantly, that budget cuts at DoD would be some sort of catastrophe, so at least on that score Hagel’s speech was less alarmist and more, well, realist.
The threat to US security presented by Hagel was centered on “violent extremism” (i.e., what’s left of the Global War on Terror) which “persists and continues to emanate from weak states and ungoverned spaces in the Middle East and North Africa.” That, plus cyberwarfare and other threats, including “the uncertain implications of environmental degradation,” is what the United States has to worry about.
But when he got to budgets, Hagel went off the tracks. Today, he said, the Pentagon has to deal with its challenges “with significantly less resources than the Department has had in the past.” But that’s not true. Yes, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are pretty much over, but stripped of the costs of those wars, Pentagon spending hasn’t fallen much if at all—at least not yet. Slashing the bloated DoD budget ought to be Hagel’s, and Obama’s, job during the next four years.
Hagel did cite Gates’ comment that “the post-9/11 ‘gusher’ of defense spending was coming to an end.” Would that it were. The modest, $487 billion reduction over the next decade that Gates and Panetta set into motion hardly bites at all into DoD’s $6 trillion-plus over the next decade. And the sequester, if it actually happens over the long term, is still small potatos. Still, Hagel didn’t express alarm in saying: