Pentagon to appoint officer to promote ethical behavior, Hagel says

Stung by a string of embarrassing revelations about misconduct in the ranks, the Pentagon will soon appoint a senior officer to promote and enforce a culture of ethical behavior and good moral character, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Friday.

The move marked Hagel’s latest attempt to get ahead of a growing list of scandals, including allegations of widespread cheating by military personnel in proficiency tests and recently disclosed reports about misbehaving senior officers.

“Ethics and character are the foundation of an institution and a society,” Hagel told reporters at the Pentagon on Friday afternoon. “They must be constantly emphasized at every level.”

Hagel said he and Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, would soon announce specific actions that each of the services is taking “to deal with this problem.”

The secretary said the department does not have a clear idea of the scope of its ethics problem, saying it could partly be the product of spending a decade focused on two lengthy ground wars.

“I don’t think there is one simple answer to the issue of ethics, values, a lapse in some of those areas that we do know about,” Hagel said. “That’s why we’re taking a hard look at this.”

On the wind down of the Afghanistan war, another tough challenge for defense leaders, Hagel said the United States continues to operate under the assumption that it will obtain Kabul’s acquiescence to keep a residual force there after 2014. Afghan President Hamid Karzai has so far refused to sign a security agreement, arguing that Washington must first help his government broker a peace deal with the Taliban.

“We are dealing with the world we’re dealing with,” Hagel said. He added that President Obama has been studying the endgame in Afghanistan closely in recent days, including at a recent meeting with senior military and defense leaders.

“He’s been putting a lot of his own time into this, thinking it through,” Hagel said.

Military planners are exploring a range of alternatives in light of the uncertainty, said Hagel, who declined to discuss them. Asked whether Washington would contemplate flying drones out of India if it is forced to leave Afghanistan altogether, Hagel offered a response that is sure to upset Pakistani officials. Pakistan and India are archenemies.

“Well, we have to consider everything,” Hagel said. “As we are.”

Ernesto Londoño covers the Pentagon for the Washington Post.
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