What Kind of Pentagon Chief Does Obama Need?

UPDATED NOVEMBER 30, 2014 1:32 PM

What Kind of Pentagon Chief Does Obama Need?

http://www.nytimes.com/ roomfordebate/2014/11/30/what- kind-of-pentagon-chief-does- obama-need?ref=opinio n

INTRODUCTION

Pentagon buildingWho should President Obama tap to lead the Pentagon?Agence France-Presse – Getty Images

The resignation of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is being seen as a sign of President Obama’s desire to shake up his national security team and acknowledge that the country is back at war. Given the onslaught of global crises, what skills should Obama look for in a Pentagon chief?

READ THE DISCUSSION »

John Nagl
The President Needs a Secretary of War

JOHN NAGL, FORMER ARMY OFFICER

Obama will need a Pentagon chief who can fight grinding counterinsurgency campaigns in two theaters under the financial pressures of a congressional sequester.

Lawrence J. Korb
Obama Is Looking for a Loyalist

LAWRENCE J. KORB, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS

A new secretary must be comfortable with the dominant role of this White House in the decision-making process, and must support the president despite opposition.

Janine Davidson
Someone Comfortable With Military and Civilians

JANINE DAVIDSON, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS

Having a strong, competent professional at the helm in the Pentagon will make zero difference if Obama is not willing to consider uncomfortable advice.

Kiron Skinner
A Thoughtful Secretary With a Doctrine

KIRON SKINNER, FORMER DEFENSE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL

Given Obama’s commitment to centralizing power, placing someone who knows how to generate ideas at the helm of the Pentagon is the most immediate challenge.

The President Needs a Secretary of War

John Nagl

John Nagl, a retired Army officer who served in the first two Iraq wars, is the headmaster of The Haverford School and the author of “Knife Fights: A Memoir of Modern War in Theory and Practice.”

NOVEMBER 30, 2014

Chuck Hagel is a good man. He turned down a college deferment offered by his draft board to serve as an enlisted man in Vietnam, where he was wounded. He recovered, enjoying a successful business career and two terms representing Nebraska in the U.S. Senate; John McCain still calls him “Sarge.”

Obama will need a Pentagon chief who can fight grinding counterinsurgency campaigns in two theaters under the financial pressures of a congressional sequester.

For all his accomplishments, however, Hagel was not a success as the first former enlisted man to lead the Defense Department. The problem was not so much who Hagel was as who he wasn’t. Brought on to manage a downsizing Pentagon and a diminishing combat role in Afghanistan, Hagel was never a member of President Obama’s close inner circle, nor a man intended to serve as secretary of war.

When the Islamic State took advantage of a premature American withdrawal from Iraq to seize territory the size of the state of Maryland, the president had an Iraq war of his very own to deal with. This disaster put the planned troop withdrawal from Afghanistan very much in question. Sadly, the Pentagon management skills the president needs for the final two years of his administration now look much like what he needed during the first two: fighting grinding counterinsurgency campaigns in two theaters, this time under the financial pressures of a congressional sequester.

Fortunately, two veterans of those early years in the Obama Pentagon are available to serve. The physicist Ashton Carter ran the Pentagon’s weapons acquisitions and logistics programs before becoming Leon Panetta’s deputy secretary of defense, the chief management officer of the world’s biggest organization. John McHugh, a Republican congressman from New York, has been Obama’s only secretary of the Army, ably managing the nation’s largest armed service. Both have earned the president’s trust; either would serve ably and well in a role the president thought he no longer needed: secretary of war.

Obama Is Simply Looking for a Loyal Pentagon Chief

Lawrence J. Korb

Lawrence J. Korb, a former assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration, is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.

NOVEMBER 30, 2014

Being secretary of defense is one of the most difficult and demanding jobs in the U.S. government. The secretary functions as the deputy commander in chief of U.S. armed forces, is a member of the National Security Council, develops a defense budget that shapes the military and accounts for 40 percent of the world’s military expenditures, and manages an organization of three million people.

A new secretary must be comfortable with the dominant role of this White House in the decision-making process.

The ideal candidate will have served in the military. Political and managerial experience are important, but in the short time the new secretary will be in office, he or she will have only limited ability to reshape the defense budget or reform the broken acquisition process. Finally, he or she must share the president’s worldview about how to deal with the national security threats to this country.

Ironically, Chuck Hagel had more of these attributes than any of his predecessors. He was a decorated Vietnam veteran who was wounded in combat, served two terms as a U.S. senator and was a successful manager in both the public and private sectors. On paper he was an ideal fit for the job. Hagel was let go because, like his immediate predecessors Leon Panetta and Robert Gates, he did not work well with those in Obama’s inner circle, who have taken increasing control over national security policy.

Hagel was let go not because the national security challenges the nation faces are very different from when he was confirmed less than two years ago, but because the president needed to demonstrate that he was taking action to shake up what many perceive as an incoherent national security strategy, especially toward the challenges of ISIS in Iraq and Syria, and Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

A new secretary must first and foremost be comfortable with the dominant role of the White House in the decision-making process, and must forcefully support the president’s approach to foreign policy challenges, both publicly and privately, despite opposition from the military, the Republicans and much of the foreign policy establishment. Obama is looking for a loyalist, not an iconoclast.

Obama Needs Someone in the Pentagon Comfortable With Military and Civilians

Janine Davidson

Janine Davidson, a senior fellow for defense policy at the Council on Foreign Relations, is a former U.S. Air Force officer and was deputy assistant secretary of defense for plans from 2009 to 2012.

UPDATED NOVEMBER 30, 2014, 1:27 PM

Who President Obama nominates to be his next (and hopefully his last), secretary of defense will be a legacy-defining decision. With the thorny midterm elections out of the way, the president has just two years to make good on the most important goals of his national security agenda — ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and rebalancing the focus toward the Asia-Pacific. He seems to have acknowledged that the road he has been on was not going to get him there.

Having a strong, competent professional at the helm in the Pentagon will make zero difference if Obama is not willing to consider uncomfortable advice.

While budget fights on Capitol Hill continue, the next secretary will again be a wartime secretary. She or he must focus intently on the crises in Iraq and Afghanistan — or else everything will continue to unravel.

It will be the next secretary of defense’s job to coax creative options out of the Pentagon that are both viable and acceptable to the president. Thus the most important attribute of this person will be her or his ability to speak both the military language of the Pentagon and the political language of the White House. The secretary will not only need a black belt in Pentagon bureaucracy and budgeting, but will also need to be respected by both the senior uniformed military and the civilians on the other side of the Potomac.

Of course, having such a strong, competent, professional at the helm in the Pentagon will make zero difference if the president is not willing to consider uncomfortable advice on everything from timelines for withdrawal in Afghanistan to numbers of boots on the ground in Iraq. If he is not willing to nominate someone able speak truth to power — and also willing to listen to her or him, he risks leaving national security on an even worse trajectory than he inherited, a remarkable legacy indeed.

A Secretary of Defense With a Doctrine Could Help Obama

Kiron Skinner

Kiron Skinner was a member of the U.S. Defense Department’s defense policy board as an adviser on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and has served on the chief of naval operations’ executive panel since 2004. She is the director of the Center for International Relations and Politics at Carnegie Mellon University and a research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution.

NOVEMBER 30, 2014

Many Defense Department observers are saying that the next Pentagon leader should be either an intense political infighter or someone who is able to be conciliatory with the president and his White House team. But what President Obama really needs is a secretary of defense who can articulate a doctrine that cuts across political minefields and can aggressively use that doctrine as a guide for U.S. involvement in military downsizing and international conflicts.

Given Obama’s commitment to centralizing power, placing someone who knows how to generate ideas at the helm of the Pentagon is the most immediate challenge.

Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger laid the foundation for the Powell Doctrine when he put forth requirements for a clear understanding of the objectives when entering an international conflict. Gen. Colin Powell, President George H.W. Bush’s chairman of the joint chiefs, advocated entering international conflicts only if there is domestic and international support, U.S. vital interests are well understood, and the U.S. is prepared to use overwhelming military force. The Powell Doctrine posed a direct challenge to the view that the U.S. should have gone beyond liberating Kuwait in the Gulf War of 1990-91 and should more readily use military power in other international conflicts.

Few recent secretaries of defense have had a well-known doctrine associated with them, a fact that applies to the three who have served in the Obama administration — Robert Gates, Leon Panetta and Chuck Hagel. They struggled with White House staffers who constantly outmaneuvered them and political operatives who undercut their authority. And while the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are being executed in a manner consistent with President Obama’s national security policy, Obama has never seen these conflicts as his. As a result, clear-cut doctrines have been lacking – not just from the White House but from the Defense Department.

Given the unlikelihood of a change in the Obama White House’s commitment to centralizing power and maintaining a large National Security Council staff, placing someone who knows how to generate ideas at the helm of the Pentagon is the most immediate and difficult bureaucratic challenge in Washington. President Obama is in search of a doctrine that puts the brakes on American retreat but respects the limits of American power. Perhaps now is the time to select a secretary of defense who can rise above administration politics to articulate a strategy – or, at the very least, set the conditions for the military brass to do so.

Join Room for Debate on Facebook and follow updates ontwitter.com/roomfordebate.

Topics: Chuck Hagel, Department of Defense, Military, Obama

One comment

  1. Apart all these lose weight fast diets, yet another thing which will gain topmost priodity
    inside your list is always to stick tto a strict routine.
    The workout is going to take about twenty or so minutes to accomplish so you only hae to do that triple wewkly this also is more potent than your family caardio workout.
    Also, there is certainly more to weight reduction than oly diet
    and exercise. http://enriqueynxi926blog.shotblogs.com/how-to-lose-weight-following-a-low-calorie-diet-499536

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *