Hagel Vows Policies Worthy of U.S. Service Members, Families
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 31, 2013 Former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel told the Senate Armed Services Committee today that his guiding principle is to make U.S. policy “worthy of our troops and their families and the sacrifices we ask them to make.”
In his opening statement at his confirmation hearing, Hagel -- President Barack Obama’s choice to succeed retiring Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta -- said he supports the administration’s policies down the line.
Hagel, who served as an Army sergeant in Vietnam, stressed his own time in the military and his experiences as a veteran while reiterating his commitment to taking care of service members, veterans and their families.
Turning to the threats the United States faces, Hagel told the senators the transition in Afghanistan will be front and center on his to-do list if he’s confirmed.
“Discussions are ongoing about what the U.S. presence in Afghanistan will look like after 2014,” he said, adding that the United States will train Afghan forces post-2014 and will maintain a counterterrorism presence in the nation.
Terrorism remains a threat, Hagel said, and he vowed to keep the pressure on terrorist organizations wherever they try to establish themselves. Yemen, Somalia and North Africa are particular trouble spots, he told the Senate panel.
“At the Pentagon, that means continuing to invest in and build the tools to assist in that fight, such as special operations forces and new intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance technologies,” he added. “And it will mean working hand in hand with our partners across the national security and intelligence communities to confront these and other threats, especially the emerging threat of cyber warfare.”
Hagel also said he fully supports Obama’s goal of preventing Iran from developing nuclear arms and the means to deliver them.
“As I’ve said in the past, all options must be on the table to achieve that goal,” he said. “My policy is one of prevention, and not one of containment, and the president has made clear that is the policy of our government.”
As defense secretary, Hagel said, he would ensure the U.S. military is ready for any contingency in the region. He also would ensure Israel maintains its qualitative military edge in the region, he added, and supports continued funding and research for the Israeli Iron Dome defense system.
Hagel also told the senators he is committed to maintaining a modern, strong, safe, ready and effective U.S. nuclear arsenal.
Addressing the shift toward the Asia-Pacific region in U.S. military strategy, Hagel said the American military is modernizing forces in the region and looking to deepen relationships with traditional allies such as Japan, South Korea and Australia. The American presence will deter states such as North Korea, he said, and will serve as a stabilizing influence. He vowed to expand the networks of security cooperation throughout the region to combat terrorism, counter proliferation, provide disaster relief, fight piracy and ensure maritime security.
“It is a recognition that the United States has been and always will be a Pacific power, and the Asia-Pacific is an increasingly vital part of the globe for America’s security and economy,” he said. “That’s why we must become even more engaged in the region over the coming years.
But the pivot to the Pacific does not mean that threats in other parts of the world are going away, Hagel noted, adding that the U.S. military will continue addressing challenges that emanate from the Middle East and North Africa.
“I will continue this rebalancing, even as we continue to work closely with our longtime NATO allies and friends, and with allies and partners in other regions,” he said.
On the looming threat of sequestration -- deep, across-the-board spending cuts that will take effect March 1 unless Congress comes up with an alternative -- Hagel said he agrees with Panetta that the plan to chop billions from the department is a bad idea.
“As someone who has run businesses, I know the uncertainty and turbulence of the current budget climate makes it much more difficult to manage the Pentagon’s resources,” he said. “If confirmed, I am committed to effectively and efficiently using every single taxpayer dollar, to maintaining the strongest military in the world, and to working with Congress to ensure the department has the resources it needs -- and that the disposition of those resources is accountable.”
Hagel pledged to continue implementing the 2011 repeal of the law that had barred openly gay service members from serving in the military, promising to do everything possible under current law to provide equal benefits to the families of all service members. He also pledged to continue Panetta’s work in opening more combat jobs to military women and fighting sexual assault in the military.
“I will work with the service chiefs as we officially open combat positions to women, a decision that I strongly support,” he said. “And I will continue the important work that Leon Panetta has done to combat sexual assault in the military. Maintaining the health and well-being of those who serve is critical to maintaining a strong and capable military, because an institution’s people must always come first.”