New Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel addresses Pentagon employees and service members during an all-hands call during his first day at the Pentagon on Feb. 27, 2013. Hagel earlier took the oath of office to serve as the 24th defense secretary. Photo Credit: U.S. Department of Defense, Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley.
WASHINGTON – In his first day as secretary of defense, Chuck Hagel vowed to maintain America’s power in the world but also warned that the country couldn’t do it alone.
"I've always believed that America's role in the world ... has been one that should engage the world. We can't dictate to the world. But we must engage in the world," Hagel said at a swearing-in ceremony on Wednesday, as reported by AFP. "No nation, as great as America is, can do this on their own. We need to continue to build on the strong relationships that we have built."
Moving forward, Hagel faces a number of complex issues, including the sequestration cuts to the Department of Defense, the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and a defiant North Korea, to name a few.
The former Republican senator faced a rocky confirmation process that included a 10-day Republican-orchestrated filibuster. Many of his critics said he did not have what it takes to fill the shoes of now-former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
The Senate eventually approved Hagel with a 58-41 vote on Tuesday.
Host Andrew Hiller spoke with Chuck Cushman, a senior fellow at the Government Affairs Institute at Georgetown University, to discuss Hagel’s confirmation.
I remember just before President Obama was inaugurated for the first time, Vice President Biden relatively famously said that the issue that comes forward, that is going to be the defining issue, is one we haven’t heard of and that you have to deal with. What do you think are some of things that are looming on the horizon that we are not talking about, that Hagel may have to wrestle with, that may just come to a front?
Well, one of the big ones that is seeming to very slowly floating into the awareness of leaders in Washington is the emerging concept of what we are calling the cyber warfare. There’s been a couple of really interesting articles in the press, including the really big one in the Washington Post last week, that talked about what appears to be pretty strong Chinese support for a wave of attacks on websites and databases, and networks all across the US. And I don’t think that policy makers here in Washington really have their heads around what it would take to defend US interests in the cyber environment. And so I’m thinking that is going to be one that is so strange, it is really going to take us all by surprise what it is going to take to make sense of it.
And it is going to be strange on many fronts, I can say it as someone who is in one of those Tweener generations. I have a good feel for what computers can do and what technology can do, but there is a part of me that misses LPs, that misses cassette tapes. For someone of Hagel’s generation, who is in the 70’es, is he going to have even a harder time assimilating the language and strategies that his advisors tell him to?
You know, I think he is going to have a challenge and there is a significant number of members of Congress who are in the same age bracket as the Secretary is. And I think all of those very senior political leaders, and this probably is going to happen in other countries as well, all of them are going to have a really tough time wrestling with what all of this new capacity means and how one defends oneself, and how do you think about war with electrons. That’s just such a strange idea that it is going to be tough for a lot of policy makers to figure it out.
Going slightly more conventional but still modern. What about drones? How much of an issue, is he going to have to deal with that? And how much will the controversy continue to mount?
Drones is another really big one and Hagel is going to have part of that discussion. But a big chunk of that is also going to confront the new Director of the CIA, assuming he gets a confirmation vote here in the next couple of days. A lot of the drones are flown by the CIA, so there is starting to be a recognition I think at the White House and very much over on the Capitol Hill that the US doesn’t have any kind of clearly defined policy for the use of drones and that this is such a big addition to both the CIA and the DOD’s capabilities, that we’ve got to have some really clear understood guidelines about it. So, I think that is another one that is going to be a big long conversation here.
So, I guess we’ll end with probably the most obvious question and the most impossible therefore. Was Hagel the right guy? Did Obama and did the Senate make a good choice for today’s problems?
You know, I think he is an interesting choice. I didn’t really have him on my radar as a possibility because he’s been out of office for a while, and he is after all a Republican. But the more I thought about it, the more I saw this is a very clever move. It does give him some insulation on managing the drawdown. And the fact that he was an enlisted soldier in Vietnam is actually something that may help him understand maybe more clearly and more personally what downsides in the military feel like to the troops in the ranks. And so that could actually end up if he works well with the President and is able to maintain a decent relationship with the Pentagon. The fact that he is a Republican and used to be a trooper rather an officer could end up being really positive things for his tenure as Secretary of Defense.
Taking a look at the confirmation of Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense we’ve been joined by Chuck Cushman – a senior fellow at the Government Affairs Institute at Georgetown University.
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