Hagel on sequester in 2011: ‘The Pentagon needs to be pared down’

Nicholas Ballasy Senior Video Reporter
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In August of 2011, former Republican Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel, President Obama’s nomination for secretary of defense, addressed the possibility of the automatic defense cuts or “sequester” taking effect, arguing that the Pentagon is “bloated” and needs to be “scaled back.”

Hagel was asked if he agreed with Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta’s assessment that the automatic cuts would be harmful to national security.

“I don’t know all the facts, but I would say this. The Defense Department, I think in many ways has been bloated. Let’s look at the reality here. The Defense Department has gotten everything it’s wanted the last 10 years and more. We’ve taken priorities, we’ve taken dollars, we’ve taken programs, we’ve taken policies out of the State Department, out of a number of other departments and put them over in defense,” Hagel told the Financial Times on Aug. 29, 2011.

“Now, I understand the nation is at war, two wars. That’s going to be the result. But, you have, and I think most Americans who read, who pay attention to anything, know about the inspector general’s reports. The latest one talking about $35 billion in waste, fraud and abuse, coming directly out of corruption. $35 billion, and that’s just one report in one country.”

The sequester was originally put in place to encourage the bi-partisan “super committee” to reach a deficit reduction agreement. When the committee failed, members of both parties expressed opposition to the automatic cuts, which were delayed by two-months in the fiscal cliff bill passed by Congress.

Hagel said the “abuse,” the “waste” and the “fraud” is always “astounding” in war.

“It always is in war, by the way. I was in Vietnam in 1968. Even as a private, eventually being a sergeant, out on combat every day, even I saw a tremendous amount of that, so I think the Pentagon needs to be pared down. I think we need the Pentagon to look at their own priorities,” said Hagel.

“Resources must always match the mission. Of course, but our mission has become so wobbly, our objectives. For example, Afghanistan. Where we are today, with $140 billion a year, this last year, 100,000 American troops in there, plus all the civilians and all the contractors, 10 years after we invaded, that wasn’t even close to what the objective and the mission was when we first went in.”

Hagel also criticized the war in Afghanistan as a conflict that is not sustainable.

“We’ve lost sight totally of the mission in Afghanistan. Talk about mission creep, this is the definition of mission creep. This is a complete rebuilding of a country, so my point is, and I don’t blame the military for this,” Hagel said. “They were charged by the Congress, by the presidents, by the administrations to do all this, and they needed the resources to do it.”

“There’s a tremendous amount of bloat in the Pentagon, and that has to be scaled back, but the mission drives that, but the resources drive the mission too, and we know that you can’t sustain this. We know that the American public want out. We know that the Congress want out, and that’s going to require bringing down that budget, and the prioritisation of our military itself.”

The former member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee concluded by saying the Department of Defense “always” avoids cutting its budget by claiming that “national defense” cannot be touched.

“I don’t think that our military has really looked at themselves strategically, critically in a long, long time,” Hagel said. “Every agency needs to do that. The Department of Defense, and I’m a strong supporter of this Department of Defense, the Department of Defense always gets off by saying, ‘Well, this is national security. You can’t touch national defense.'”

“Well, no American wants to in any way hurt our capabilities to national defense, but that doesn’t mean an unlimited amount of money, and a blank check for anything they want at any time, for any purpose. Not at all. Not at all, and so the realities are that the mess we’re in this country, with our debt and our deficits, and our infrastructure and jobless and all the rest, is going to require everybody to take a look, even the Defense Department, and make a pretty hard re-evaluation and review.”

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