A week or so after Chuck Hagel was sworn in as the U.S.
defense secretary, he picked up the phone on his desk
to call George Little, then his press secretary, and told a temp in Little's
office that it was Chuck Hagel on the phone. The temp didn't believe him and
hung up on the secretary. Later, Hagel, known for making office calls on
unsuspecting Pentagon workers, walked into Little's outer office and playfully
handed the temp his card -- to help her remember who he was for next time. More
than nine months later, though, there is a lingering sense that she's not the
only one who doesn't know who the man is.
When he was a
senator, he was considered a free spirit --
a political omnivore and independent speaker of truth to power on issues from
military force to negotiations with Iran. So when he got the nod to be defense
secretary, many assumed he would bring a new kind of vigor to the Pentagon just
when the place needed it most.
But after surviving his infamously bruising
confirmation battle, Hagel has made few daring moves. He hasn't yet driven a
pointed agenda, fired any poor-performing generals, or sent clear signals about
how he'll put his personal stamp on a job he seemed to want but many believe he
has yet to own. There has been scant word of him scoring any of the kind of
bureaucratic victories at the Defense Department or within the broader Obama
administration that some Pentagon watchers would have thought they'd see by
And on the most
prominent issue confronting the Defense Department -- the budget -- his moves have been cautious. Just this
month he announced details of cuts to headquarters personnel, but its
centerpiece was only a decrease of 200 people -- over five years - an
underwhelming cut given popular perceptions of a bloated Pentagon bureaucracy.
Since he arrived at the Pentagon,
there has been little public evidence of the quiet brashness for which Hagel
was known in the Senate. There have been few signs of the audacity that
animated the man whose public service began when he volunteered for the Vietnam
War and continued through to the political maelstrom he entered after being
nominated to head the Defense Department -- and fought hard enough to survive. Instead,
Hagel's contributions thus far seem mostly to fall in the behind-the-scenes
category, more circumspect than courageous, and that style is at odds with a
department that some believe needs a take-no-prisoners strongman of a manager.
"...There's little question that the
Obama administration is trying to shepherd in an era of diplomacy and play down
its military might. Hagel's people say their man is trying to play team ball
and has purposely tried to stay away from showy plays, even though there were
times when he could do so. Hagel's reticence may be just what the Obama
administration wanted; few people believe the White House really wants an
activist defense secretary.
Asked to describe
what he thinks the "bumper sticker" of his time at the Pentagon would be, Hagel, in an
interview with Situation Report in his E-ring office last month, took a pass. "That
bumper sticker will be assigned not by me, but by those who will grade and
evaluate whatever I left behind in the job I did," he said. "I didn't
take this job going in with some perception of 'this is my bumper sticker' or
the so-called Hagel era. I don't think that way." He added: "It's not
a Hagel era; it's an Obama era. I'm an agent of the administration."
But despite all
this, and being hurled crisis after crisis, Hagel has been gaining a footing in
the job, defense officials say, and point to his work on the budget and with
foreign leaders. For example, after
consultation with White House officials, Hagel directed the Defense Department
"first into the breach," sending military jets to shoot through
China's air defense identification zone (ADIZ) in a signal of strength that the
United States wouldn't cow to Beijing's control of that area. China had at
first demanded any noncommercial flights headed into that airspace to submit
their flight plans to Beijing first. But after the United States flew jets
through the ADIZ without doing that, Beijing appeared to back off its threat to
scramble its own jets to escort any such flights. Defense officials also
highlight Hagel's recent trip to the Persian Gulf, where he reassured partners
from Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar who are
concerned about the negotiations with Iran. "The crown prince told Hagel
that the partnership between the U.S. and Saudi are as strong as ever, which is
crucial for continued mil-mil coordination," one senior defense official
said after the trip by way of showing the kind of work the secretary has been
doing quietly. "In Qatar, Hagel inked a renewed defense cooperation
agreement, also essential to that relationship." Read the rest of our Hagel
profile, including how he's viewed inside the Pentagon, on the Hill and
by analysts downtown, here.
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From red to pink to white: the
former Saudi intel chief blasts the Obama administration. The NYT's Steven Erlanger: "An influential Saudi prince blasted the Obama
administration on Sunday for what he called indecision and a loss of
credibility with allies in the Middle East, saying that American efforts to
secure a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians would founder without a
clear commitment from President Obama. ‘We've seen several red lines put
forward by the president, which went along and became pinkish as time grew, and
eventually ended up completely white,' said Prince Turki al-Faisal, the former
intelligence chief of Saudi Arabia. ‘When that kind of assurance comes from a
leader of a country like the United States, we expect him to stand by it.' He
added, ‘There is an issue of confidence.
"Mr. Obama has his problems, the prince said, but when a country
has strong allies, "you should be able to give them the assurance that what you
say is going to be what you do." The prince no longer has any official position
but has lately been providing the public expression of internal Saudi views
with clear approval from the Saudi government. The Saudis have been
particularly shaken by Mr. Obama's refusal to intervene forcefully in the
Syrian civil war, especially his recent decision not to punish President Bashar
al-Assad of Syria with military strikes even after evidence emerged that Mr.
Assad's government used chemical weapons on its own citizens." More here.
Al-Shabab says they are back on
Twitter. Al Jazeera: "Somalia's al-Qaeda-linked rebel group, al-Shabab,
has returned to the social media networking site Twitter more than two months
after their last account was suspended, an official for the group told Al
Jazeera. On Monday, a message was posted on the social media site under the
handle of @HSM_INFO carrying the standard signature of the group. ‘The aim is
to vigorously challenge defamatory reports in the media by presenting an
accurate portrayal of the current state of Jihad in Somalia and countering
Western, state-sponsored propaganda machines that are paid to demonise the
Mujahideen,' an official for al-Shabab, who spoke on condition of anonymity,
told Al Jazeera. The Somali government, which has borne the brunt of most of
al-Shabab attacks, has called on Twitter to ban the group." More here.
Audit, ouch edition: The U.S.
Army was overcharged on Afghan radio parts. Bloomberg's Tony Capaccio: "The
biggest supplier of combat radios for Afghan security forces overcharged the
U.S. Army for parts such as transceivers and battery chargers because the
service didn't challenge the pricing, according to the Pentagon's inspector
general. Personnel with the Army Contracting Command didn't ‘perform sufficient
analysis' to ensure ‘fair and reasonable prices' for equipment bought from
closely held Datron World Communications Inc., assistant inspector general
Jacqueline Wicecarver said in an audit marked ‘For Official Use Only.'
This is the 10th time since 2008 that the Pentagon inspector general has criticized
negotiations over ‘fair and reasonable prices' for military parts and
equipment, according to the report. Three previous audits involved pricing by
Boeing Co. and two others concerned the Sikorsky Aircraft unit of United
Technologies Corp. Based on a sample of 127 items purchased over the past
several years from Daron, the command ‘potentially overpaid up to $3.3 million'
for the communications equipment, according to the audit dated Dec. 5. It
recommended that the Army seek a refund from Datron and use the money to buy
additional equipment." Read the rest here.
CIA Benghazi team clash led
to stand-down report. AP's
Kim Dozier: "CIA officers
revealed a clash over how quickly they should go help the besieged U.S.
ambassador during the 2012 attack on an outpost in Libya, and a standing order
for them to avoid violent encounters, according to a congressman and others who
heard their private congressional testimony or were briefed on it. The Obama
administration has been dogged by complaints that the White House, Pentagon and
State Department may not have done enough before and during the attack to save
U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others, and by accusations that it
later engaged in a cover-up. One allegation was that U.S. officials told the
CIA to "stand down" and not go to the aid of the Americans. Top CIA
and Defense and State Department officials have denied that." More here.
Defense News' Most Influential
People: 1. Xi Jinping, 2. Susan Rice, 3. Chuck Hagel, 4.
John Kerry, 5. John Brennan... 96., Larry Korb, 97., Mackenzie Eaglen, 98.,
Marion Blakey, 99., Air Force Gen. Paul Selva, 100. "Air Power Advocates." For
the 90 in between, click here.
Defense bill, budget plan face
an uncertain future. Defense News' John Bennett: "That a controversial bipartisan spending plan would be
easier to push through the US Senate than a military policy bill was
unthinkable not too long ago. But that has become Washington's latest
bewildering political reality. Since the onset of Barack Obama's presidency,
the Democratic-run Senate was, for the defense and other sectors, the more
predictable congressional body. After all, it was the GOP-controlled House that
was more chaotic, with a superconservative Republican wing feuding with its
leadership and pushing the nation to the brink of fiscal calamity." More here.
Levin, on the issue raised by veterans groups and
others in the budget deal that would reduce the annual COLAs for working-age
military retirees: "... The Senate Armed Services Committee is going to review
this change after we convene next year, before it takes effect in December
2015. There is also an ongoing comprehensive review of the military
retirement and compensation systems being conducted by the Military Retirement
and Compensation Modernization Commission established by Congress last year for
that purpose, which may further bear on this issue."
Murphy tell crowds in Ukraine that their future lies to the west, not the east.
WaPo's Will Englund: "A showdown
between Russia on one side and the United States and the European Union on the
other drew closer here Sunday, as two American senators told a crowd of
hundreds of thousands of protesters that Ukraine's future lies to the west, not
the east... Murphy, McCain and European politicians who addressed the crowd in
Kiev on Sunday turned up the pressure on Yanukovych, promising that their
governments will consider individual financial sanctions against responsible
Ukrainian officials if there is any further outbreak of police violence against
the protesters who come and go at the semi-permanent encampment on Kiev's
Independence Square. Yanukovych has tried to mollify the opposition by resuming
talks with the E.U. on a trade agreement. His Nov. 21 decision to back away
from the deal triggered the protest movement." More here.
There is still mystery surrounding the August 2011 Chinook tragedy. FP's Dan Lamothe: "It
was Aug. 6, 2011, when a CH-47D Chinook helicopter carrying Navy SEALs and
other U.S. military personnel was shot out of the sky over Afghanistan. The
helicopter, carrying elite special operators to reinforce Army Rangers engaged
in a firefight, was attacked from the ground by insurgents wielding
rocket-propelled grenades, witnesses later told military investigators. The
Chinook crashed and exploded in a fireball, and all 38 people and a working dog
on board perished. More than two years later, the incident remains shrouded in
mystery, and is still the deadliest day for the United States in 12 years of
war in Afghanistan. Now, the case of Extortion 17 - the call sign for the
downed helicopter - will get its day on Capitol Hill. The House Committee on Oversight
and Government Reform will hold a hearing to probe Extortion 17's demise early
next year, U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) told Foreign Policy." More here.
Despite cuts and eye on the
Pacific, the Air Force implored to save the Warthog. The Washington Times'
Kristina Wong: "The Air Force's A-10
"Warthog," which provides close air support for ground troops, has survived
enemy anti-aircraft fire for decades but is about to be downed by the budget
cutter's pen. With combat envisioned in the Asia-Pacific region, there is
little room for a "tank killer" like the A-10 Thunderbolt - nicknamed "Warthog"
because of its look - and other long-treasured weapons systems in a Pentagon budget facing
deep reductions, officials say. The budget cuts also could reduce production of
the KC-10 Extender tanker aircraft, the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle and the
Ground Combat Vehicle. ‘Do we want a ready force today or a modern force
tomorrow? That's the dilemma. You can't have both,' Gen. Mark Welsh III, Air
Force chief of staff, said last week at the American Enterprise Institute. ‘If
you lose a counterinsurgency action, it's embarrassing. If you lose a
full-spectrum conflict, it will be catastrophic.' The rest here.
Kim Jong Un's inner circle is
dwindling. Dana Stuster: "...At Kim Jong Il's funeral in December
2011, the dear leader's casket was flanked by eight people -- his son and
successor, Kim Jong Un, and the "gang of seven," a collection of the late Kim's
closest advisors. These officials were hand-selected "regents" meant
to guide the young dictator as he grew into his new role. Now, nearly two years
later, only two of the seven remain in office after the apparent execution and
very public shaming of Jang Song Taek, thought to be the second-most powerful
man in North Korea. More, including the
picture of Kim Jon Un walking beside the creepy old Lincoln Town Car used for
his father's funeral, here.