Eliot Cohen writes in The Post today that “military service has very little bearing on the effectiveness of the second most important civilian leader of the armed forces.” He explains, “What is it, precisely, that one would bring by service as a sergeant in a war more than 40 years past — almost as distant from today as the charge up San Juan Hill was from D-Day, or the Battle of New Orleans was from Gettysburg? It was an important, even searing, life experience, no doubt. But the technology, strategy, tactics and organization now are all utterly different.”
In President Obama’s case, Chuck Hagel’s past service brings emotional manipulation and insincere regard for the military personnel who will be adversely affected by Hagel and the president’s “devastating” defense cuts. Obama and his spinners accuse Hagel’s opponents of doubting or disregarding his service, in essence calling anyone who opposes him (among other things) an ingrate. In the words of that great philosopher VP Joe Biden, malarkey! This has nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with Hagel’s personal courage or patriotism. Suggesting that it does reveals how weak the case is for Hagel for the job for which he has been nominated.
No doubt the president hopes that in touting Hagel’s enlisted service we will forget he is immensely unqualified for the job. As Cohen notes:
There are plenty of sergeants in this world — good, bad and indifferent; wounded and whole. They are the backbone of the armed forces. But their experiences and responsibilities are not those of the secretary of defense. He or she must wrestle with one of the world’s largest bureaucracies; make difficult choices among extraordinarily expensive technologies; show discrimination and judgment in picking and, if necessary, firing generals; balance domestic and foreign politics; knit his or her department into the intricate web of interagency relationships; and advise wisely on strategy and campaign plans.
It is sort of like arguing that the teller at your local bank would make a great Treasury secretary or a nurse a great Health and Human Services chief. Nothing against tellers and nurses, but that suggestion would be dubbed silly. Moreover, to be frank, Hagel was in the military that was entirely different from and much worse in virtually every respect than today’s fighting force. We now have a volunteer force, with women and gays integrated into the services. Whatever Hagel’s sense of “the way things are supposed to work,” if based on his Vietnam experience it is likely outdated (hence, his opposition to repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell”). What does he think of women in combat? It is likely colored by an obsolete vision of combat.
The notion that Hagel’s combat experience qualifies him for the job reflects either the president’s superficial understanding of national security or his predilection for subsuming good policy to partisan politics. George C. Marshall was qualified to be secretary of defense because he had vital experience as a brilliant Army chief of staff in World War II, a job that required the same tactical, organizational and leadership qualities as the Pentagon chief. The late representative Les Aspin (D-Wis.) was a rotten defense secretary, even though he previously served in the Army. Would Obama appoint former representative Ron Paul (R-Tex.) because he served in the Air Force and the Air National Guard?
Obama says Hagel is the defender of the little guy in the military. (Now we have class warfare in the Pentagon, I suppose. Don’t the colonels and generals deserve someone to look after their interests as well?) In that case, I am sure he will do something about this, as reported by the Washington Times: “Sailors and Marines serving on aircraft carriers can expect long deployments for the next few years because of ongoing crises in the Middle East and a shrinking number of carriers available for duty.” The report goes on to observe, “[M]ilitary budget analyst Winslow T. Wheeler, says the operational tempo [frequency of deployments] has been a problem because [the Navy has] been delaying the maintenance events and doing that to enable longer deployments. That simply means you’re building up a longer bill for the problems that you need to fix when it does get back to port and needs this long-term maintenance.”
Well, if Hagel is fervently on the side of the fighting men and women, then he would, certainly, tell the president it is unacceptable to put the burden of longer deployments and the risk of insufficiently maintained equipment on those risking their lives for the country. Right?
Putting aside for a moment the “devastating” sequestration cuts, the $487 billion in defense cuts already passed are and will have an adverse impact on the fighting men and women. The Defense Department reported about a year ago: “We will achieve some cost savings by providing more limited pay raises beginning in 2015. This will give troops and their families fair notice and lead time before these proposed changes take effect. We will, therefore, achieve some savings in the later years to invest in force structure and modernization.” In other words, service pay and benefits have to be raided to pay for the minimal modernization allowed under Obama’s already enacted Pentagon cuts. Military benefits are also to be cut. This comes on top of severe cuts in modernization and weaponry. You would think Hagel, the veteran, would object to a hollowing out of the force. And all of that is before we get to defense sequestration, which the White House insisted on and which Hagel purportedly has no trouble with.
In fact, Obama and Hagel are up to something that is both insidious and obvious. They are using Hagel’s service as cover for doing real damage to our national security, and giving our volunteer force much less than they need and deserve. Obama says Hagel will be the defense chief the troops “deserve.” In fact, they deserve a whole lot better, including a president and secretary of defense who put national security first, not last, among our priorities and stop hacking away at our national security spending while refusing to check the enormous rise in entitlement and discretionary domestic spending.