Reuters blog archive
from Nicholas Wapshott:
It may not feel like it, but we are closer to nuclear war than at any time since the Cuban missile crisis of 1962. The temptation to dismiss the North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un as a cartoonish figure of fun belies the real and present danger his samurai sword rattling presents. A strange time, then, for Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to set out on the most thorough reappraisal of our defense spending since the end of Vietnam.
It is no secret that Hagel relishes the chance to slim the armed forces to a more affordable size. It is what commended him to President Barack Obama. He has already commissioned a wholesale “strategic choice and management review” of the Defense Department, which has been told to think the unthinkable in terms of cutting spending. This week, before defending his vision before the House Armed Services Committee, he offered a glimpse into what he has in mind: a slimming of the desk-bound middle management whose pay and perks cost more than the value of their contribution to the nation’s defense; a clearheaded look at the generous health and retirement benefits the nation’s military and veterans enjoy; the abandonment of expensive advanced weapons that may not be necessary; and an unsentimental assessment of the need for all of our domestic military bases.
Hagel invited “change that involves not just tweaking or chipping away at existing structures and practices but, where necessary, fashioning new ones” because “left unchecked, spiraling costs to sustain existing structures and institutions, provide benefits to personnel and develop replacements for aging weapons platforms will eventually crowd out spending on procurement, operations and readiness.” The American military is too large, Hagel argued. “How many people do we have,” he asked, “both military and civilian? How many do we need? What do these people do? And how do we compensate them for their work, service and loyalty with pay, benefits and healthcare?”
Until recently, such a radical approach to military spending would have been greeted with a chorus of disapproval, not just from those whose constituencies include the military bases that provide a vote bank for those who argue for the maintenance of high defense spending, but also from the united Republican leadership. Until George W. Bush left the White House, protecting the strength of the military was a top priority for the GOP. Maintaining high spending on the military, come what may, was a key policy difference with the Democrats to be played up at every turn. Since Eisenhower, all Republican presidents have spent like drunken sailors on the military to counter fiscal conservatives in their ranks who demanded that the federal government be put on a diet. Lavish spending on our forces was used as a counterweight to fiscal conservatism: backdoor Keynesianism to pump money into a flagging economy.
from Stories I’d like to see:
The Hagel fiasco:
I can’t get Defense Secretary-designate Chuck Hagel’s awful Jan. 31 Senate confirmation testimony out of my head. I went back last week and watched most of it again. It was stunning, by far the worst performance by a high-level appointee I’ve ever seen or heard about. I’m not referring to Hagel’s gaffes, though there were some. I’m talking about pretty much everything he said after he read his opening statement. He seemed – is there a nice way to say this? – stupid.
Yet from what I’ve read, those who know him say he is far from stupid. I spent an hour interviewing him about 10 years ago and he seemed pretty sharp ‑ though it was for a profile of a friend of his, so the questions were hardly challenging.
from David Rohde:
Viewers of Thursday’s confirmation hearing of Defense Secretary nominee Chuck Hagel can be forgiven for thinking they were watching a years-old C-SPAN rerun. The importance of America’s intercontinental ballistic missiles dominated initial questioning. Then the war in Iraq was debated. In the end, the issue that most concerned senators from both parties was Hagel’s loyalty to Israel.
During an eight-hour hearing, the difficult decisions that the U.S. military now faces received scant attention. Vast budget cuts loom. Suicide and post-traumatic stress disorder rates are appallingly high. Diverse security threats ranging from Iran to cyber-attacks to al Qaeda in North Africa must be countered.
from Thinking Global:
President Barack Obama has been commander-in-chief for four years, but the world only now will see the full flower of Obama foreign policy unfold. It likely will have less to do with any grand ambition to shape an increasingly dangerous world, and instead will be focused on avoiding new wars as he focuses on what he has called “nation building” at home.
In the past week, the president has provided important clues about how he views his historic legacy through nominating a national security team that more closely reflects his own personal preferences and through the underlying message he sent last Friday to visiting Afghan President Hamid Karzai. The two men agreed most U.S.-led combat operations in Afghanistan would end this spring, signaling an accelerated end to the second war Obama inherited from President George W. Bush.
from Jack Shafer:
I can feign as much excitement as anybody in the press corps when the president nominates someone to a vacancy in the Cabinet or the Supreme Court. But when deadline time comes, I really don't care who gets nominated; unless there are outstanding warrants for the arrests of the nominees, the president should be allowed to hire and fire, as long as we can fire him.
The rest of the press pack, alas, does not have that luxury. They must tackle every nomination with the same fervor they gave to their previous nomination stories, which isn't as difficult as it may seem. All they need to do is update and rearrange their old copy to confirm with Shafer's First Law of Journalistic Thermodynamics, which states, "Copy can be cannot be created or destroyed, it can only change form."
By Martin Hutchinson
The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.
Chuck Hagel, President Barack Obama’s pick for U.S. defense secretary, is a good choice for deficit hawks. He mixes dovish foreign policy views - at least for a Republican - with budget-cutting fervor. The combination could actually slash Pentagon spending. Reducing it to the proportion of GDP seen in the late 1990s would save Uncle Sam a quarter of a trillion dollars a year.
from Nicholas Wapshott:
You might imagine the president has quite enough trouble on his hands with the looming battle with House Republicans over extending the debt ceiling without opening a second front over the appointment of Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense. Although a distinguished former Republican senator, Hagel has already attracted venomous opposition from his old colleagues who think, among many other complaints, he is not sound on Israel and has been too critical of American policy in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Does the president really need more aggravation? Isn’t it a golden rule of politics not to spend your political capital all at once, as the president did in his first term when he pressed through healthcare reform to the detriment of an effective plan to reshape the wayward financial institutions? Having achieved a partial victory in the fiscal cliff negotiations by raising taxes on the super-rich, does Obama really need to take on the House and Senate at the same time?
from The Great Debate:
President Barack Obama’s nomination of Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) for secretary of state, along with the potential appointment of former Senator Chuck Hagel for defense secretary, is an important step forward for the under-resourced State Department and the over-stressed Defense Department.
Kerry and Hagel share qualities and experiences sure to resonate with those who execute U.S. national security and foreign policy – on the battlefield and in the increasingly dangerous world of diplomacy.