Confirming Chuck Hagel

Republican Chuck Hagel, a former two-term senator from Nebraska and President Obama's choice to lead the Pentagon, testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee during his confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 31, 2013

Republican Chuck Hagel, a former two-term senator from Nebraska and President Obama’s choice to lead the Pentagon, testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee during his confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 31, 2013

Let’s just get this out of the way:  Former Senator Chuck Hagel is not perfect.  There are things that the Democrats don’t like (he may cut some of their pork, for one) and that the Republicans don’t like (he doesn’t seem to like war for example).  Hey, when both sides have some problems with you, maybe that does make you perfect!

I do think that Hagel will be confirmed at Secretary of Defense, but the vote will likely be close.  I like the nomination for exactly the examples I gave.  Hagel will have to cut the defense budget one way or another, he will have to deal with contractor abuses, and he will be very reluctant to get us into war.  And maybe he will begin a conversation within the administration about rules for drone strikes.  It seems to me that it will be useful to have to combat veterans, Kerry and Hagel, looking at issues of war and peace.

George Zornick has been followed the confirmation hearing for the Nation and has compiled his top ten ridiculous questions that were asked.  Here are some of the best.

He has divisions so first the “Please Admit You Hate America” Division

Senator James Inhofe, R-OK: The question I’d like to ask you, and you can answer for the record if you like, why do you think that the Iranian foreign ministry so strongly supports your nomination to be the secretary of defense?

“Please Pledge, Here and Now, To Start A War” Division

Senator John McCain, R-AZ: Do you think that Syrians should get the weapons they need and perhaps establish a no-fly zone? [A no-fly zone would, almost without question, quickly lead to a full-scale air war with Syria.]

It should be noted that almost everyone seemed to want to know if he would use force if necessary against Iran.

“Please Promise to Keep the Pork Flowing to my State” Division (the winners were all Democrats, two from New England, I picked Jeanne Shaheen for some gender balance.)

Senator Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH: Our four public shipyards are the backbone of our naval power. But according to the Navy there’s huge backlog of the modernization and restorations projects at our shipyards.… Will you commit to ensuring that this modernization plan is produced, and will you commit to pressing the Navy, within the fiscal constraints that I appreciate, to fully fund the improvements in the long term?

And finally we have questions that were ridiculous but “We Really Wish Hagel Would Have Answered ‘Yes’ To “Division

Senator Ted Cruz, R-TX: Senator Hagel, do you think it’s appropriate for the chief civilian leader for the US military forces to agree with the statement that both the ‘perception and the reality’ is that the United States is ‘the world’s bully’?”

All I can say is good luck Secretary Hagel.  We wish you well.

Photograph: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

Cutting the Defense Budget

How do you tell someone their favorite defense program is no longer going to be funded?  Secretary Gates did it as well as anyone could have when he made his announcement earlier this week.  I think that will turn out to have been the easy part.

So what are people saying about his proposals?

From the Boston Globe  article titled “Deep Cuts, New Chances”

For the defense sector, which in recent years has posted big profits from a rapid run-up in military spending, the new focus was a mixed message. Big programs appear to be in jeopardy, but others may be built up under Gates’ plan.

“This budget represents an opportunity, one of those rare chances to match virtue to necessity, and ruthlessly separate appetites from real requirements,” Gates said of his $534 billion spending plan for the 2010 fiscal year.

Many defense stocks jumped Monday even as the broader market fell. Shares of Lockheed Martin Corp. and Northrop Grumman Corp. each rose nearly 9 percent. Analysts said the big gains, which occurred as Gates made his early afternoon speech, were likely because the budget cuts were not as bad as some investors had anticipated.

The New York Times said the reaction was mixed

Members of Congress and advocates for the armed services pushed back on Tuesday against Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates’s plans to pare billions of dollars from a variety of Pentagon weapons systems, but others said that the cuts were prudent and that fights over them would be limited to several leading programs.

Military analysts said the biggest lobbying campaigns would be focused on Mr. Gates’s proposed cutbacks in the F-22, the advanced stealth fighter that critics call a relic of the cold war, as well as his trimming of the Army’s $160 billion modernization project, called the Future Combat Systems.

Members of Congress from Georgia and Oklahoma, where the jet and the Army project mean jobs, promised a fight. The arguments, which were frequently directed by Republicans against one of their own — Mr. Gates, one of two Republicans in President Obama’s cabinet — were cast in terms of national security and moral responsibility.

But the best commentary is from Jon Stewart in a segment titled “Full Metal Budget”

The fight between regions, technologies and the future of the military has begun.

The Military Budget

President Obama said he expected to save money by withdrawing troops from Iraq (which savings will actually show up in the budget now that Iraq and Afganistan spending is no longer “off-line”) and that saving is part of how he proposes to spend on things we all want like health care, education, and energy efficiency.  That is all well and good.  But the elephant in the room (and I don’t just mean Republicans, but also Democrats with their own self-interests) is military spending.

Congressman Barney Frank has an article in the March 2 issue of the Nation in which he talks about military spending.  He begins

I am a great believer in freedom of expression and am proud of those times when I have been one of a few members of Congress to oppose censorship. I still hold close to an absolutist position, but I have been tempted recently to make an exception, not by banning speech but by requiring it. I would be very happy if there was some way to make it a misdemeanor for people to talk about reducing the budget deficit without including a recommendation that we substantially cut military spending.

As Congressman Frank points out there has been a huge increase in the military budget and not all of it attributable to the Wars in Iraq and Afganistan.

It is particularly inexplicable that so many self-styled moderates ignore the extraordinary increase in military spending. After all, George W. Bush himself has acknowledged its importance. As the December 20 Wall Street Journal notes, “The president remains adamant his budget troubles were the result of a ramp-up in defense spending.” Bush then ends this rare burst of intellectual honesty by blaming all this “ramp-up” on the need to fight the war in Iraq.

Current plans call for us not only to spend hundreds of billions more in Iraq but to continue to spend even more over the next few years producing new weapons that might have been useful against the Soviet Union. Many of these weapons are technological marvels, but they have a central flaw: no conceivable enemy. It ought to be a requirement in spending all this money for a weapon that there be some need for it. In some cases we are developing weapons–in part because of nothing more than momentum–that lack not only a current military need but even a plausible use in any foreseeable future.

It is possible to debate how strong America should be militarily in relation to the rest of the world. But that is not a debate that needs to be entered into to reduce the military budget by a large amount. If, beginning one year from now, we were to cut military spending by 25 percent from its projected levels, we would still be immeasurably stronger than any combination of nations with whom we might be engaged.

So are there any signs of hope that we might, despite what will be a conservative outcry about “keeping America strong” and the loss of jobs from miliary spending (can’t many of those folks shift toward developing good things like better batteries for electric/hybrid cars?) and so on?  Christopher Hayes  in a companion piece to Frank’s writes

Indeed, over the past year Defense Secretary Robert Gates has made a series of speeches about shifting resources toward nonmilitary international engagement, as well as reducing spending on outdated weapons systems. “The spigot of defense spending that opened on 9/11 is closing,” he told senators on the Armed Services Committee in January. “The economic crisis and resulting budget pressures,” he said, would provide “one of those rare chances…to critically and ruthlessly separate appetites from real requirements, those things that are desirable in a perfect world from those things that are truly needed in light of the threats America faces and the missions we are likely to undertake in the years ahead.”

Obama expressed similar sentiments on the campaign trail: “I will cut tens of billions of dollars in wasteful spending,” he said in a campaign video. “I will cut investments in unproven missile defense systems. I will not weaponize space. I will slow our development of future combat systems.”

Most recently, Rahm Emanuel hinted on Meet the Press that the administration might have the Pentagon in its sights as part of its promise to trim fat from the budget. “We have about $300 billion in cost overruns,” he said. “That must be addressed, and we will be addressing it.”

We seem to be getting some mixed signals, however.  William Lynn from defense contractor Raytheon who has been described by Hayes (and others) as “never having met a weapons system he didn’t like”  has been appointed deputy defense secretary.  On the other hand,  Obama has just appointed Ashton Carter from the Kennedy School to be Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics.  As far as I know, Dr. Carter has mostly worked on non proliferation issues and has no ties to any defense contractors.