Well, why not? After all, Sen. Chuck Hagel was only a sergeant in the Vietnam war and I was a corporal - substantive, mind! - in the British army at roughly the same time, even if I was idling my time away living amongst the fleshpots of Singapore whilst he was up the sharp end in Vietnam earning serious medals. And anyway, now that he, as a putative Republican, has been chosen by President Obama to be the next Secretary of State for Defence then as far as I am concerned he has assumed the character of one of those targets they used to hoist up at the end of our firing range at which I used to waste quids worth of ammo as my shots went everywhere except near the picture of a charging enemy infantryman at which I was supposed to be aiming! Of course, being of a peaceable nature myself I would not do this without provocation but the fact is that just about everyone and his uncle are taking potshots at poor old Chuck. He must feel as though he's back in Vietnam.
Leading the charge, natch!, is 'The Kraut' in the columns of the National Review:
The puzzle of the Chuck Hagel nomination for defense secretary is that you normally choose someone of the other party for your cabinet to indicate a move to the center, but, as the Washington Post editorial board points out, Hagel’s foreign-policy views are to the left of Barack Obama’s, let alone the GOP’s. Indeed, they were at the fringe of the entire Senate. [My emphasis]
So what’s going on? Message sending. Obama won reelection. He no longer has to trim, to appear more moderate than his true instincts. He has the “flexibility” to be authentically Obama.
According to 'The Kraut', there are three main areas of policy with which to judge Sen. Hagel's approach. The first, is military spending which is scheduled to go under a $600 billion scalpel, a policy vehemently opposed by Sen. Hagel's predecessor which might have been the cause of his early demise. But 'Sgt.' Hagel, having looked at the army from the bottom up, knows the unbelievable amount of waste and profligacy, to say nothing of kick-backs and profiteering, that goes on inside a defence budget. So in this he may be right, as Mark Steyn makes clear in The National Review:
But beyond the politics is a real question. He’s [Hagel] not wrong to raise the question of Pentagon “bloat.” The United States has the most lavishly funded military on the planet, and what does it buy you? In the Hindu Kush, we’re taking twelve years to lose to goatherds with fertilizer.
Something is wrong with this picture. Indeed, something is badly wrong with the American way of war. And no one could seriously argue that, in the latest in the grim two-thirds-of-a-century roll call of America’s un-won wars, the problem is a lack of money or resources. Given its track record, why shouldn’t the Pentagon get a top-to-toe overhaul — or at least a cost-benefit analysis?
Quite so but I can't help wondering how much of baby will be thrown out with the bath water, by which I mean, the really slick technology required for research and development of the very latest in weaponry costs zillions even with Scrooge in charge of the Pentagon. The Chinese have zillions, not in cash terms but in science graduates prepared to work for peanuts provided they get a flat in one of those empty modern cities that litter their landscape. What I'm trying to say is that if government is hopeless at running over-spent budgets which at least produce the goodies in the end, how efficient will they be at cutting back budgets without ending worthwhile research projects?
The second Hagel policy item ' The Kraut' concentrates on is Israel:
The issue is not Hagel’s alleged hostility but his public pronouncements, his refusal to make moral distinctions, for example. At the height of the second intifada, a relentless campaign of indiscriminate massacre of Israelis, Hagel found innocence abounding: “Both Israelis and Palestinians are trapped in a war not of their making.”
I'm not sure one can afford "moral distinctions" in international affairs but whilst the Israelis no doubt have much blood on their hands it as nothing compared to the corrupt, vicious and self-perpetuating war policy of the Arab regimes which they have maintained as a means to maintain themselves. That has now failed and even worse collection of loonies is in charge of their various asylums. There is also a real-politik argument in favour of supporting Israel, particularly now. The new Islamist regimes will hate us whether we support Israel or not, so we might as well keep the Israelis going for as long as possible in order to keep otherwise idle and mischievous Arab hands and minds busy. It is an Obama-rish fancy that playing 'nicely-nicely' with your sworn enemies will somehow placate them. Read some history, Mr. President, and you, too, Sen. Hagel!
Thirdly, of course, comes Iran, and 'The Kraut' spells it out:
Hagel doesn’t just oppose military action, a problematic option with serious arguments on both sides. He actually opposed any unilateral sanctions. You can’t get more out of the mainstream than that.
He believes in diplomacy instead, as if talk alone will deter the mullahs. He even voted against designating Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization. And most tellingly, he has indicated that he is prepared to contain a nuclear Iran, a position diametrically opposed to Obama’s ostensibly unalterable opposition to containment in his first term. What message do you think this sends the mullahs?
And that’s the point. Hagel himself doesn’t matter. He won’t make foreign policy. Obama will. Hagel’s importance is the message his nomination sends about where Obama wants to go. The lessons are being duly drawn. Iran’s official media have already cheered the choice of what they call this “anti-Israel” nominee. And they fully understand what his nomination signals regarding administration resolve about stopping them from going nuclear. [My emphasis]
Mark Steyn makes more or less exactly the same point but adds in a gloomy assessment of the future in the first half of the 21st century:
The rest of the world can see coming the Pentagon downsizing — and the inevitable, commensurate decline of U.S. power. Pacific Rim countries will have to rethink reliance on the counterbalance of the U.S. Navy and consider acquiescence to Chinese regional hegemony. Arab countries will understand that the current rapid decline of post-Kissinger U.S. dominance in the region is not cyclical but intended to become permanent.
Hagel is a man of no independent stature. He’s no George Marshall or Henry Kissinger. A fringe senator who left no trace behind, Hagel matters only because of what his nomination says about Obama.
Meanwhile, in The Spectator, Andrew J. Bracevich, turn his fire onto the Chiefs of Staff themselves. He is amused by General Martin E. Dempsey, the COS Chairman, who continues the Pentagon custom of holding regular strategy meetings in which all the 'brass', with plastic booties on their shoes, stride around a map of the world painted on the floor of an enormous room deciding on their strategy for this or that eventuality which he describes as "a made-for-Kubrick set-up" inviting hilarity and scorn. I'm not so sure of that. Generals are supposed to think of the strategic threats to their country. In fact, if the COS had done a little more of it, as well as doing it better, in the 1930s they might have been better prepared for the 1940s! But Mr. Bracevich will not have it:
Yet Dempsey’s map hints at the dirty secret that members of the fraternity of strategists, civilian and military alike, are loath to acknowledge. The formulation of strategy begins by assuming away complexity, reducing reality to a convenient caricature. Strategic analysis is almost by definition dumbed-down analysis. To conjure up solutions, you start by simplifying the problem.
Reading his essay I decided that what Mr. Bracevich is really complaining about is not strategic thinking but poor strategic thinking! Well, we'll all drink to that, especially the poor old 'Grunts' and 'Toms' who get left with the job of putting it into action. But that sort of 'conclusion' does take you very far. Von Schlieffen, von Moltke the Younger and the entire German General Staff went in for arguably the greatest exercise in strategic thinking the world has ever seen, even down to the intervals, measured with Prussian exactitude down to minutes, between hundreds of trains moving across Germany in 48 hours. Six weeks after the war they started, they lost - even if it did take them another four years to own up!
Anyway, all those of you (and there are a few not a million miles from my regular commenter, DM!) who pray for a docile America kept so busy turning swords into plough-shares that it will quietly ignore the rest of the globe going to hell in handcart may be about to live your dream. Let's hope it doesn't turn into a nightmare!