As Chuck Hagel seeks support for his nomination to become Secretary of Defense, Bob Woodward has released a story about a White House trip the former Senator made in 2009.
According to an account that Hagel later gave, and is reported here for the first time, he told Obama: “We are at a time where there is a new world order.
"We don’t control it. You must question everything, every assumption, everything they” — the military and diplomats — “tell you. Any assumption 10 years old is out of date. You need to question our role. You need to question the military. You need to question what are we using the military for."
Hagel warned the president about getting "bogged down" in Afghanistan and voiced concern over the deployment of 51,000 additional troops sent at the time to fight in the war.
The Post reports Hagel went so far as to say privately in 2011: “The president has not had commander-in-chief control of the Pentagon since Bush senior was president.”
Hagel is likely referring to Donald Rumsfeld's battle for control of the military, both against generals and the president. The perception was that Bush was less the decider, and more a person to be advised of decisions already made.
Obama encountered his lack of control early in his first term. His stated intent was to draw down forces in Afghanistan. Later, through a controlled leak, Gen. Stanley McCrystal, then-commander of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, grudgingly leveraged 30,000 troops out of a stubborn Obama administration.
Some would call that normal politics, but again the perception is that the commander in chief is not really in charge of the military.
The common word on the street nowadays is that the U.S. needs to de-escalate its overseas military obligations, focusing more on a lighter "footprint" approach to global counterinsurgency. The assessment falls in line with the president's Defense Secretary nomination.
It looks like Hagel's nomination could be approved and if so, he and the president could share deeply common views.
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