Hagel’s Inaugural Address: ‘We Must Deal With Budget Reality’

By Sandra I. Erwin
There was no alarming doomsday rhetoric in Chuck Hagel’sfirst speech as the nation’s 24th secretary of defense.
By week's end, the Pentagon will be hit by a big budget ax that will wipe out $46 billion from its 2013 budget. “That’s reality,” Hagel told a crowd of military officers and civilian Pentagon workers Feb. 27, just hours after being sworn into office.
Budget cuts, indeed, are bad news, Hagel acknowledged. But they should not derail focus on the Pentagon’s national security responsibilities, he said. “We have to deal with this reality” of fiscal austerity and political gridlock. A significant challenge for the department, he said, is uncertainty.
Channeling the Navy’s recruiting slogan, “America’s Navy: A Global Force for Good,” Hagel said he views the entire U.S. military as a “tremendous force for good” even though, occasionally, “We make mistakes.”
The United States is living through turbulent times, but the armed forces are the only institutions that continue to maintain high credibility with the American people, Hagel said.
“We are living in a difficult time … but there are opportunities,” he said.
Hagel called for the U.S. military to work more closely with foreign allies. He also warned about future use of military force, suggesting that it should be applied “wisely.”
The new secretary of defense takes over the Pentagon after surviving a bruising confirmation process and squeaking through Senate approval on a mostly party line vote of 58 to 41.
Hagel told the cheering Pentagon crowd that he is “proud to be part of your team.”
In his advance written questions submitted to the Senate Armed Services Committee before his confirmation hearing, Hagel anticipated that his immediate priorities would be the budget crisis, the war in Afghanistan and counter-terrorism efforts.
“Some of the challenges we know today, but many will continue to unfold as we conclude over 10 years at war and look to the future of our military posture,” he said. “In an ever changing world with both state and non-state actors developing non-traditional tools of war, the United States will be challenged by technological advancements that bring the battlefield to both space and cyberspace." Another priority, he said, will be to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
“As the United States begins to rebalance to the Asia Pacific region, the Department will be faced by new challenges in this vital part of the world,” he said. “Piracy, maritime security, disaster relief efforts and of course, continued vigilance to terrorism and proliferation of nuclear weapons name just a few known challenges.”
At the same time, the United States is “fighting its own battles at home to take care of its service men and women returning from over a decade of war with rising medical costs and advanced medical conditions. … We must be prepared for any contingency we may face in the coming years all while doing so in the confines of this austere budget environment.”
Photo Credit: Defense Dept.

Topics: Defense Department, DOD Budget, DOD Leadership

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