That winter in Washington, DC was cold and damp. Yet, approximately a thousand military veterans marched in the street toward the White House and Congress. Marching against the government is not an action most veterans take lightly. Their purpose was to voice opposition to the looming invasion of Iraq. History shows their efforts had little noticeable effect. The media and the American people were fully in step with the marching music of war. Strangely, tourists, government workers and ordinary civilians left the sidewalks to walk for a bit with the veterans. Most impressive, the snipers posted on surrounding government buildings stood and saluted as the former soldiers marched past their posts. A point was made and thought provoked.
The realists among those veterans surely knew their protest was futile. I recall the period running up to that war well. At my wife's place of employment, she was verbally assaulted and called both unpatriotic and un-American. Her 'sin' was speaking out against the proposed invasion of Iraq. My wife's fellow workers shook their heads pitying her attacker as my wife angrily pulled out her military ID slammed it on the counter in front of her attacker. "Here is mine; where is yours?" That worker slinked away in silence never to broach the subject again. The U.S. media readily joined the rush to war. The day of the veterans' march, national press generally ignored the veterans choosing to highlight a crowd of 200 people supporting 'the troops and war' at the Lincoln Memorial.
This narrative leads directly to the primary reason to support Hagel. He, among very few in Washington, was, and is, willing to say what he thinks. Hagel voiced objections in the run up to war and takes contrarian yet thoughtful positions on other issues in the military and international affairs arenas. For this reason alone, Hagel earns my recommendation as secretary of defense.
2. Bloated Department of Defense Budgets
"Military budgets are only one gauge of military power. A given financial commitment may be adequate or inadequate depending on the number and capability of a nation's adversaries, how well it spends its investment, and what it seeks to accomplish, among other factors..."
Walker, Dinah. "Trends in U.S. Military Spending." Aug 2012. Council on Foreign Relations. Jan 2013.
Neo-cons such as Wolfowitz might perceive war can be had cheaply and project a sort of manly dominance as this "The Sunshine Warrior" New York Times article by Bill Keller implies. However, Hagel, a combat veteran, possesses no illusion of war as manly or cheap. Less expensive and more productive alternatives to war exist. In Lebanon, stateless Hezbollah twice defeated the military powerhouse of Israel. They did it by concentrating on the other elements of national power. They built schools, hospitals and social infrastructure. As with prior Secretary of Defense Gates, Hegal can be counted on to support U.S. development and diplomacy tools to improve national security.
With the purge following General Shinseki's congressional testimony, the military senior leadership fell in line or into retirement. The progeny of those who fell in line reign over the current Pentagon and military. The U.S. defense budget soared from those fateful Iraq Invasion days. Yet, our military is worn and our people are exhausted. Today, the US faces international threats of declining severity, but increasing diversity. These threats, when combined with economic realities, dictate the wise course of action is a serious evaluation of capabilities, threats and requirements. Hagel knows that such a major task is far too important to be left to a senior military leadership whose accomplishments over the past decade are correctly open to question.
Military action must be the last, rather than the primary, tool of foreign policy. Every segment of U.S. government should have input into foreign policy. History demonstrates trading partners make the best allies. While Hagel knows this, he also knows that the nation's military must be ready and able to deliver overwhelming force when required. This is the second reason to support Hagel's confirmation.
3. The Troops and Their Families
Our military forces and their families give much. Many have served longer combat tours than any other forces in U.S. history. Our government and citizenry agreed to fight a war using a backdoor draft of our National Guard and Reserves in ways never envisioned or contracted. We, the people, were happy to go shopping. Through bitter experience, Hagel understands the price paid by our troops and their families. Sadly, many Americans simply don't understand what was done in their name. Why? Politics and what was, and is, often a deliberate attempt to make light of military sacrifices and to avoid the financial costs of extended war.
Geoff Smeltzer, my co host on What Vets Need to Know, spoke of neo-con chickenhawks:
...But then again, us combat veterans are overly sensitive to battle casualties. We lack that particular kind of courage that loves war at a distance. That special kind of courage that quickly forgets those who fought and when convenient even mocks them. For example, the Purple Heart band aid brandished at the 2004 Republican Convention to mock John Kerry's service...
Conservatives in Congress attempt to be strong on defense but all too often their bravado conceals a core more willing to mock the warrior than to pay the price of war.
Hagel will not readily give such short shrift to our veterans as the military becomes more sustainable. The Pentagon listed 349 active duty suicides in 2012. These deaths do not include veteran and military family suicides. The uncertainty of continued military service and the national requirement to ensure meaningful employment to the troops is critical not just in the fight to reduce suicides but to rebuild our nation and retain the services of proven national assets. This third reason is Hagel seems the best person to confront these challenges while remaining aware of the needs of the troops.