Friday, September 18, 2015

Chuck Hagel – Nice Guy, Wrong Fit

Chuck Hagel was this year’s Korbel School Dinner speaker and winner of the DU Global Security Award.

With Dean Chris Hill asking the questions (very few in that Hagel has a filibuster answer style), Hagel showed his Nebraska common sense and cautious approach toward foreign and defense policy
Chuck Hagel (top) and
 Dean Chris Hill (bottom)
. The Vietnam War was his touchstone and, although as a Midwestern Republican senator he backed the Iraq War in 2003, he quickly soured of it. Hagel became one of the Bush administration’s most vocal critics, opposing the surge and often citing his independent line: “I didn’t take an oath of office to my party or my president.”

His political evolution led him to become President Obama’s defense secretary in 2013 in about the worst possible moment for the administration and especially for a secretary that shared Obama’s emphasis on withdrawal and restraint. After his 2012 re-election, Obama slid into a rapid political decline, running through the November 2013 collapse of the Obamacare website and his approval rating (dropped to 40%), culminating in Democrats losing the Senate in November 2014.

Hagel had a historically difficult confirmation with a filibuster and polarized vote. But, the real challenge began his first day on the job. The sequester hugely reduced the military budget and he had to make the cuts.

Events in Hagel’s Tenure
  • Sequester, March 2013 – One option he reported: reduce carrier group from 11 to 8.
  • Tour of Asia, May 2013 – Said: Decline of U.S. military power “good thing.” Allies must step up. Dealing with doubt of allies.
  • Syria red line, August 2013 – Said: Ready to launch strike. President abruptly calls it off.
  • Russia Crimea, February 2014 – Assured by Russian Defense Minister Russian Army would not invade.
  • ISIL/ISIS, September 2014 – Supported start of bombing again.
  • Announcement – Would be resigning November 2014.
He faced the Syria red line, Russia in the Crimea and the rise of ISIS. Hagel was not the person to cajole Europe to support NATO nor was he interested in reintroducing war fighting capacity into Iraq. Even he knew he was the wrong fit for the moment.

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