Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Qualifications for Being US SecDef

It seems to be that to be Secretary of Defense, the key qualification is that you want to slay all of Israel's adversaries, right?  Heaps of news about criticisms of Chuck Hagel for not being sufficiently pro-Israel.  But since when is it the Secretary of Defense's job to manage relations with Israel?  Given that the fiscal challenges the US is facing, it might not be on the top ten of the SecDef priorties.  Let's listicle, shall we?
  1. Right-sizing the American military budget.  Clearly, the past decade has led to some very bad habits, in addition to the inherent tendencies in the institution, so that spending more and more on less and less is not sustainable.  So, just figuring out what the US can afford is job 1.
  2. Figuring out how to balance present commitments/conflicts versus future threats.  The first item was guns vs butter.  The second step is: which kinds of guns?  Those needed in the counter-insurgency fights or those that might be needed some day against China?  Robert Gates had to push and push for the USAF to focus a bit on drones.  These questions are not settled.
  3. How to manage the military in peacetime?  For most of the current generation of enlisted folks and much of the officer corps, there is little experience in garrison.  The past ten years have been very much focused on being at war.  What happens when there is not a deployment on the horizon?
  4. We have some general problems about our generals.  The Petraeus fiasco (yes, pun intended as Fiasco is the title to a very good book written by a Petraeus fan about poor generals  [and politicians] ) may reveal much since he was supposedly the best.  He might still have been, but his behavior in Afghanistan and since raises questions.  General Allen and his email with Jill Kelley raises the same questions.
  5. What is the role of DoD in the drone war?
  6. How do we deploy Special Operations forces in places where the US is not supposedly at war? The secret squirrels do not like oversight, and SecDef has far more ability to oversee these folks than the people in Congress.
  7. F-35?  This goes back to item one and two--guns versus butter, which kind of war we plan to fight, and then the big challenge--quantity versus quality.
  8. Concussion, post-traumatic stress, and the costs of health care.  The military budget may be crowded out by spending on health care.  The health care costs are increasing for a variety of reasons, but two legit ones are taking concussions more seriously and taking PTSD more seriously.
  9. The Academy problem.  Lots of spending on officer education but heaps of problems here--that the USAF Academy has been essentially captured by a religious group, that West Point may be facing the same challenge as well. 
  10. If there is a foreign relations problem for the SecDef, the first one is not Israel but managing the US relationship with NATO given the burden-sharing problems inherent in alliances and amplified by the varying ways that democracies do civil-military relations.
All of these are more central to the SecDef's job than Israel.  And to be clear, Hagel is not anti-semitic as far as we can tell.  He just is not willing to launch a war every other day to counter all of Israel's threats.   One can be critical of Israel, of Netanyahu, of AIPAC without hating Israel.  All countries vary over time in how perfect they are.  Oh wait, no country is perfect, and Israel's imperfections are quite clear.  No, the Palestinians have not been ideal partners either, but Israeli policies are made with Israel in mind first and foremost.  American policies should be similar: with America first and foremost.  That does not make me anti-semitic or anti-Israel.  Just an American with my priorities in the right place. 

So, if Hagel is been blasted by those who think we should identify American interests as being defined by Israel, then that means that I want Hagel to take the job, even if I would prefer to have a Democratic in the job.  It turns out that the end of 2012, beginning of 2013 is "Obama Must Stick to His Positions" Season.

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