In an otherwise widely applauded speech, the new Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel delivered a speech on April 3 at the National Defense University.
His talk was a response to the downward budget pressures placed on the Pentagon thanks to the REPUBLICAN and DEMOCRATIC-endorsed sequester (bi-partisan fame, bi-partisan blame, bi-partisan shame).
As the Center’s own Laicie Heeley (ne Olson) pointed out: “Hagel has recognized that continuing to wildly spend without a strategic vision is not only bad policy, it’s dangerous to US national security.”
She further praised the speech as “the right path forward,” but noted the devil is in the details: how will Hagel follow-up the rhetoric.
But Hagel tripped on his own words in one portion of the speech.
Said Hagel: “America does not have the luxury of retrenchment – we have too many global interests at stake, including our security, prosperity, and future.”
The United States has completed one nasty, lengthy and expensive — in lives and dollars — war in Iraq.
U.S. involvement in the second long war is finally drawing to a close in Afghanistan, and none too soon.
You are darn right that the United States can retrench and avoid long and costly military interventions in other trouble spots.
Secretary Hagel equates retrenchment — which Webster’s defines as reduction or curtailment — with abandoning American leadership in the world.
He argued: “If we refuse to lead, something, someone will fill the vacuum.”
Hold on there, Mr. Secretary. The United States will continue as the number one world power and has important moral, economic, cultural and yes, military leadership responsibilities.
We can continue to provide assurance to South Korea in the face of the North’s invective and threats.
We can continue to try to negotiate Iran’s nuclear program away, using a mixture of carrots and sticks.
But at the same time, the United States has more than the luxury of retrenchment; it has the necessity to avoid these miltary interventions.
And that retrenchment can save big bucks.
Like trillions of dollars.