Chuck the Knife

I’ve been calling rather monotonously for some attention to be paid during the confirmation debate over Chuck Hagel to U.S. national security strategy. I know we’ll all enjoy another rousing debate over the stupidity of the Iraq War and the fresh new topic of U.S.-Israeli relations, but it would be nice to hear a bit of discussion about the actual job Hagel would be doing.

David Brooks, of all people, thinks Hagel’s nomination is all about a big change in national security strategy–specifically, a major decline in defense spending driven by what Brooks describes as the emergence of a “health care state” in which every spare dollar goes to Medicare and the Pentagon must take a hit:

Chuck Hagel has been nominated to supervise the beginning of this generation-long process of defense cutbacks. If a Democratic president is going to slash defense, he probably wants a Republican at the Pentagon to give him political cover, and he probably wants a decorated war hero to boot.

All the charges about Hagel’s views on Israel or Iran are secondary. The real question is, how will he begin this long cutting process? How will he balance modernizing the military and paying current personnel? How will he recalibrate American defense strategy with, say, 455,000 fewer service members?

You’d like to think it would work in reverse with the budget following the strategy, but if the budget forces a reconsideration of a U.S. defense structure still based on the Cold War and the assumption that we alone embody the “free world,” that’s fine with me. If, however, Hagel’s nomination is not about “Hagel’s views on Israel or Iran,” Brooks needs to tell his old buddy and former boss Bill Kristol that pronto.

UPDATE: In one of those nice coincidences, the probable soon-to-be-interim-Senator Barney Frank has come out with a piece for Democracy explaining why the defense budget needs to come significantly down.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.