Chuck Hagel’s confirmation as the United States Secretary of Defence doesn’t bode well for the world’s most powerful country.
A polarising candidate for Defence Secretary right from the start, Obama’s replacement for Leon Panetta overcame bitter opposition from Republicans to win the vote 58-41 in the Senate.
But is Hagel really the right man for the Pentagon job?
Hagel’s military career as a Vietnam War veteran may have been illustrious, but his hostilities towards America’s allies like Israel and India haven’t gone down too well with them. His ‘softness’ on sworn enemy Iran is another bone of contention.
Hagel, on a visit to the Middle East in 1998 blamed the Israeli Government for the Palestinian refugee problem and said that it “essentially continues to play games.” Whilst a member of the Senate, Hagel voted against US sanctions on Iran, and has objected to designating Iran-backed Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation.
Israel’s bone with Hagel doesn’t end here. Hagel’s open opposition to the ‘Jewish lobby’, which he believes exercises unrestrained influence over American politics and economy, has irked Israel to no end. Hagel’s disenchantment with pro-Israel diplomacy and his opposition to a military operation against Iranian nuclear enrichment has made him a favourite in Tehran.
As if Israel wasn’t enough, Hagel turned the tide eastward, accusing India of using an insurgency-torn Afghanistan as a “second front”.
At a speech at Oklahoma’s Cameron University in 2011, Hagel alleged India was making the most of a broken relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan, and had over the years “financed problems for Pakistan”.
“India for some time has always used Afghanistan as a second front, and India has over the years financed problems for Pakistan on that side of the border,” Hagel said.
“And you can carry that into many dimensions, the point being that the tense, fragmented relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan has been there for many, many years,” he added.
Hagel will be at the helm of operations when NATO troops pull out of Afghanistan in 2014 and discernibly, he does not see India as a trustworthy partner to oversee the transition, or as a stakeholder of peace in the region.
America’s unwavering support to Pakistan, and its ongoing war against terrorism in AfPak, will all be integral to Hagel’s plan to secure peace in the region. Something he will desperately need to win over India for.
Hagel may not be the best man for the Defence Secretary job, but will have no problem fitting into Obama’s refurbished national security quartet. The President too, has been labelled anti-Israel by policy experts, and maintains an acrimonious albeit cordial relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Obama’s appointment of John Kerry as Secretary State and nomination of John Brennan for CIA Director may have further alienated America’s most trusted ally.
For a military that outspends its closest rivals by hundreds of billions of dollars, Hagel will inherit a cash-strapped Pentagon, at a time when the Defence Department braces itself for across-the-board budget cuts worth $46 billion on Friday.