As the Hagel nomination seems to have run into troubled waters, though in all reality he will be confirmed, it has been reported that Brent “Scowcroft joined with several other former officials in both parties to sign a letter in support of Hagel las month on the letterhead of the “Bipartisan Group,” a loose association of former officials that includes Hagel. The Cable reported that horse racing gambler Bill Benter paid to have that letter advertised in Politico‘s Playbook newsletter. But the Bipartisan Group has no further plans to act on behalf of Hagel and is not working directly with the Obama administration on the Hagel defense effort”.
Dr Stephen Walt mentions that “as I noted a week or so ago, I don’t think Hagel’s appointment implies any shift in policy direction. It’s been clear for quite some time what the general thrust of Obama’s national security policy is going to be: trimming defence, pivoting to Asia, rejecting preventive war with Iran, and striving to rebuild at home. To the extent that he used the sword overseas, it was through limited, surgical means like special forces and drones and not big U.S. deployments”. Yet what Walt does not mention is Iran where Obama views the country, rightly, as a threat, both to American interests and allies, to say nothing of regional stability.
Tom Hicks writes “The significance of the nomination of Chuck Hagel to be defense secretary is not that he is the first Vietnam vet to be tapped, but rather that he is the first combat-veteran enlisted man ever to be picked. (Like Forrest Gump, he served in the 9th Infantry Division.) I think that is nice. But I don’t think it particularly will help him with the job. I worry more about the lack of diversity in the backgrounds of the members of the Obama cabinet. Too many former members of Congress, too few people who know much about the real world”.
It has been argued that Chuck Hagel biggest task at the Department of Defence will be the pivot to “Asia”. It has been written that “Hagel may be a former grunt, but his most important task as America’s next secretary of defense — should his nomination pass the Senate — could be a trying job for a landlubber: executing the military component of the Obama administration’s pivot to Asia. It’s a mission that will require an appreciation for the finer points of maritime strategy, a deft diplomatic touch, and an expansive worldview”. Naturally, just because Hagel served in the US Army does not disqualify him from running DoD, but it does mean, at least initially, that he may have to defer to senior civil servants until he has some idea of what is required of the pivot.
Holmes goes on to define the pivot noting, “I define a pivot as a foreign-policy enterprise that combines elements of geography, strategy, and diplomacy to mount a sustained presence in some distant and potentially contested overseas theatre In military terms, pivoting means building up preponderant armed might in East and South Asia in concert with friends and allies to accomplish strategic and political goals. Pivoting is a matter of strategic mass, strategic maneuver, and alliance relations. It also means setting priorities. American leaders must be prepared to relegate secondary theatres to secondary status, lest they scatter finite resources hither and yon. Dispersal thins out military power at any spot on the map, perhaps leaving U.S. commanders at a local disadvantage against weaker foes. Armed forces that try to do everything, everywhere, at the same time end up doing little anywhere”.
Holmes then makes the very valid point that “United States first pivoted from North America to the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico, turning its eyes from the continental interior to the maritime near abroad. Let’s call this turnabout Pivot 1.0. This was the age of the Monroe Doctrine (1823), when Washington appointed itself the protector of American republics’ independence of European imperial rule. In principle, the republic forbade Europeans to expand their holdings anywhere in the Western Hemisphere. In practice, U.S. leaders confined their energies to the Caribbean basin. They were thinking geostrategically, and they set priorities. Once dug, a canal across the Isthmus of Panama would shorten sea voyages between Atlantic and Pacific by thousands of miles, sparing mariners the journey around Tierra del Fuego — the odyssey the Pacific-based battleship USS Oregon underwent to get into the fight off Cuba in 1898″.
He further blosters his argument when he argues “Victory over Spain in 1898 furnished strategic mobility in the form of an island base network to support naval operations in the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico. Policy energy, strategic mass, strategic maneuver — these were the struts supporting America’s first foreign-policy pivot. But if Pivot 1.0 swiveled U.S. attention to the Caribbean, it also ushered in Pivot 1.5. Adm. George Dewey’s Asiatic Squadron crushed the Spanish fleet at Manila Bay during the Spanish-American War, handing the United States an offshore outpost in the Far East. Washington scooped up islands such as Hawaii and Guam — islands suitable for naval stations — in the aftermath of war. America had established a bridgehead off the China coast, complete with island stepping-stones to reach it. It just needed a Central American canal to expedite access from the North American east coast to the Pacific Ocean, and thence to the riches of Asia. America’s Pacific strategy remained in limbo until the Panama Canal opened in late 1914, completing the arc of Pivot 2.0″. He then mentions “Huntington, the great political scientist, contended that U.S. maritime strategy entered a “transoceanic” phase following World War II, fixing American attentions on events deep within Eurasia while empowering U.S. forces to act from forward bases scattered around the rimlands. Call Huntington’s transoceanic strategy Pivot 2.5 if you like. But it was another variation on the same theme”.
Finally, President Obama’s choice of the non-Democrat Hagel has been defended, “President Clinton appointed a Republican senator, William Cohen, to succeed Democratic defense intellectual William Perry as secretary of defense late in his second term. But George W. Bush kept on Clinton appointee George Tenet as his first CIA director. Likewise, right after his election, Richard Nixon offered the post of secretary of defense to Democratic Senator Henry Jackson, and the man who was eventually confirmed as secretary, Melvin Laird, kept on many Democrats, including Paul Warnke, when he took over the Pentagon. Reagan appointed former Jackson staffer Richard Perle, former Carter Pentagon official Paul Wolfowitz, and Democratic heavyweight Paul Nitze to key posts on his national security team”. The piece ends rightly dismissing the criticism levelled against Hagel, “Tom Coburn (R-OK), Dan Coats (R-IN), and John Cornyn (R-TX) — said they would not vote for him. Coburn says Hagel does not have the experience to manage a large organization like the Pentagon. Leaving aside the fact that Hagel has held many private and public sector management positions, does this mean that Coburn would have voted against two of the more successful secretaries of defense who came directly from the House, namely Republicans Melvin Laird and Dick Cheney? Coats contends that Hagel has shown much disrespect for the military. Really? He disrespects it so much that he volunteered to serve in combat, was awarded two Purple Hearts, and coauthored the 9/11 GI Bill over the opposition of the Bush administration. (Coats, by the way, was turned down for the secretary of defense post by George W. Bush after he was interviewed for the job.) Does this mean that Coats would have voted against Caspar Weinberger and Leon Panetta, who both tried to slash defense spending while running OMB? Cornyn says he cannot vote for Hagel because of his problem with Israel. What problem? According to several retired ambassadors, flag officers, former national security advisors, a former Republican secretary of defense, and former senators from both parties, no one has been more steadfast in supporting America’s commitment to Israel than Hagel. And would Cornyn have voted against James Baker, who had a problem with Israel’s settlement expansion and cut off loan guarantees to the country?”