Thoughts & Views: The world according to Hagel

In an interview with Charlie Rose aired last week on PBS, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel was explaining the facts of global life, as filtered through the eyes of a Vietnam combat veteran.

Hagel, who claimed he was representing the views of the Commander in Chief, President Obama, said that Congress needed to ante up defense spending if it wanted to keep the American military capability in cyber warfare technology up to par with the world’s other superpowers and to beat down the forces of terrorism.

He reminded Rose that the U.S. has a military “presence” in 100 countries where, he said, we are helpmates to allies who want our help.

Hagel didn’t use the word “treason” but he came pretty close when he warned that Congress better do its utmost to avoid succumbing to the pitfalls of sequestration and accompanying budget cuts. (And it appears that Congress – facing mid-term elections – is listening, given the House’s willingness to hand the Pentagon $600 billion – more than it asked for – despite the brass’s offer to close some bases, shed the U-2 spy plane and other weapons. (Obama is seeking Congressional approval for a $3.7 trillion total national budget for 2014.)

Still, Hagel – almost in the very next breath – told Rose that the U.S. “can’t be the world’s policeman.”

Well, if that’s the case, why do we have a military “presence” all around the globe if we can’t settle every country’s disputes?

And if that’s true, why does President Obama continue to challenge certain countries by drawing symbolic red lines if he knows – and those other countries’ leaders know – we’re not going to stop them from crossing them?

Hagel was emphatic about the need for the U.S. to continue investing in military technological infrastructure to keep up with the growth in the industry so we don’t fall off our perch as what the defense secretary sees as the world’s leading military power.

When Rose asked why the U.S. military, with all its technological prowess, just doesn’t fly into Nigeria and flush out the 260 girls kidnapped by the Boko Haram, Hagel said the U.S. “has to be invited in” to the country. We can’t compromise a country’s “sovereignty,” he said. That would make us look as bad as Putin violating the sovereignty of Ukraine, wouldn’t it?

Well, didn’t we violate that doctrine when we sent our Navy Seals into Pakistan to kill Osama bin Laden?

Oh, but that’s a different story, many readers will say. We had every moral justification to do that. Clearly we weren’t going to get any cooperation from Pakistan so we did what we had to do. I suppose if we – and Israel – concluded that the government of Iran was about to activate its nuclear reactor, that would make it okay for us to drop in for a surprise visit.

Am I naively minimizing the danger out there? Am I saying there are no “bad guys” running loose and exploiting weak, corrupt governments around the world?

No. I accept the fact that we live in an imperfect world, one that is fraught with peril, even within our own borders.

But is the only answer for the superpowers to arm themselves to the hilt, continuing the endless cycle of investing in a technology whose objective is to kill more efficiently, all in the name of military “readiness”?

As we’ve learned from the Snowden revelations, we all spy on each other – we know what our enemies – and our allies – are doing.

Even Hagel admitted that the U.S. and China desire normalization of trade relations without having to duke it out on whether China or Japan has the right to grab the South China Sea islands.

The only solution that makes any sense is working for world peace to preserve whatever sanity may be left. That means that nations with diverse cultures, economies, political and religious beliefs must come together in common cause to defeat the forces of evil – whether it’s a Hitler or Boko Haram. Or hunger, drought, global climate threats, etc., etc.

– Ron Leir

The Observer Staff