The Secretary of Defense Cuts

Potential Obama nominee favors massive defense reductions

Chuck Hagel, Barack Obama / AP
December 12, 2012

Potential secretary of defense nominee Chuck Hagel has expressed support for massive budget cuts that could cripple the Pentagon’s ability to ensure America’s national security, sparking concern among proponents of a robust national defense.

Hagel, a former Republican Senator from Nebraska, is reported to be on President Barack Obama’s shortlist to head the Pentagon. Sources have told the Free Beacon that it may be only a matter of time before the president announces his nomination.

The likely selection of Hagel has led Democrats and Republicans to express anxiety about what they say are the former senator’s troubling foreign policy views. These positions should disqualify him as a candidate for the nation’s top defense post, they say.

Concerns include his statement that the United States should stay out of war-torn Syria and his support for a precipitous U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Hagel has also been knocked by the pro-Israel community for his sharp criticism of Israel as well as for advocating direct unconditional talks with Iran.

"If Chuck Hagel has his way, Iran will get nuclear weapons and Israel will be thrown under the bus," said William Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard and a board member of the Center for American Freedom, which publishes the WFB.

Hagel would have a difficult time being confirmed by the Senate should he be nominated, according to a senior Senate aide involved in the potential confirmation process.

"Chuck Hagel is not a mainstream Republican and his appointment would not be any great show of bipartisanship," the aide said. "Where Republicans believe in a strong national defense and peace through strength, Hagel believes in cut-and-run peace through retreat."

"With radical views on defense spending, Israel, Syria, and Afghanistan, Hagel cannot win 60 votes in the Senate for confirmation," said the aide.

During his 12-year tenure in the Senate, Hagel adopted foreign policy positions that placed him in the minority of both political parties. His views on a number of critical matters have become even more troubling since that time, sources said.

Critics have often described Hagel as a member in good standing of the "blame America first" crowd.

"Chuck Hagel apparently believes that we are in a post-American world in which the United States has a limited ability to influence world events. He seems to be the personification of leading from behind," one foreign policy insider said.

The president would have an ally in his battle to slash the budget if Hagel takes over the Defense Department.

"The Defense Department, I think in many ways has been bloated," Hagel told the Financial Times last year. "So I think the Pentagon needs to be pared down. I don’t think that our military has really looked at themselves strategically, critically, in a long, long time."

Hagel also has taken a tough stance against job creation at the Pentagon.

"Our Defense Department budget, it is not a jobs program," he stated last year. "It's not an economic development program for my state or any district."

Congressional leaders have balked at further defense cuts, claiming they would imperil the nation’s ability to defend itself and its allies in an increasingly dangerous world.

Lawmakers have already enacted $500 billion in defense cuts. An additional $500 billion would be cut in January if Congress fails to reach a budget agreement by the end of the year.

Hagel also has thrown his support behind the fiscal proposal known as "Simpson-Bowles" that advocates wide-ranging defense cuts.

"I strongly believe that President Obama should have taken the Bowles-Simpson report, embraced that, and used that as a starting point," Hagel told the Financial Times.

Hagel has also stated that America should take a back seat in its effort to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

"I think the president is playing this exactly right. We cannot be the tip of the spear under any circumstances," Hagel was quoted as saying in March. "If there is some military intervention, it has to come from the region. The Arab League … I don’t think it can be a NATO-led element."

Hagel had a powwow with former Syrian leader Hafez al-Assad, Basher’s father, in 1998. Critics maintain that Hafez, much like his son, was a dictator and a thug who ruled with violence.

Additionally, Hagel has been a leading Republican critic of America’s conflict in Iraq.

He vocally opposed the largely successful 2007 troop surge and accused America of craving "war with Muslims."

"America finds itself in a dangerous and isolated position in the world," he wrote in November 2006. "We are perceived as a nation at war with Muslims. Unfortunately, that perception is gaining credibility in the Muslim world and for many years will complicate America's global credibility, purpose, and leadership."

American intervention in the Middle East has only promoted instability, according to Hagel.

"Trust and confidence in the United States has been seriously eroded. We are seen by many in the Middle East as an obstacle to peace, an aggressor, an occupier," Hagel said in a 2005 interview.

"Our policies are a source of significant friction not only in the region, but in the wider international community," he said. "Our purpose and power are questioned."

Hagel has similar criticisms about the war in Afghanistan.

He has been a proponent of an accelerated withdraw and maintains that Americans "lost our way" during the conflict.

Hagel suggested on Monday that America has little influence in Egypt and Syria, claiming it has "minimal ability to influence the outcomes in those countries."