Lincoln Journal Star
June 20, 2013
OMAHA — Back home in Nebraska for the first time as the nation’s secretary of defense, Chuck Hagel on Wednesday surveyed a landscape of U.S. challenges ranging from Syria, Iran and North Korea to emerging cyberwarfare and abrupt military budget cuts.
But Hagel’s broad litany of the threats and challenges facing the nation was sketched in optimistic tones that pointed to accompanying opportunities to help build “a safer, more prosperous, more secure, more hopeful and just world.”
During an interview before his address at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, his alma mater, Hagel touched on a number of volatile issues.
*Hagel said the United States has decided to “move forward to assist the Syrian opposition” in its battle against the government of Bashar Assad, but he said “we want to work through this in a wise way,” and that means “vetting individuals” and carefully assessing conditions before assistance is supplied.
“We don’t want to see the implosion of Syria,” Hagel said, or conditions created that could lead to a Middle East war.
*Budget challenges may lead to another round of military base closings or reductions, Hagel said, and no installation will be exempt from consideration.
Asked specifically about Offutt Air Force Base near Omaha, whose operations include — but are not limited to — the U.S. Strategic Command headquarters, Hagel said: “StratCom is a high, high priority. But no base will be unaffected,” that is exempt from review.
*President Barack Obama’s new proposal for additional U.S.-Russian nuclear arms reductions has his strong support and that of senior military leaders who have assured him it would “not compromise the security of this country.”
“Why wouldn’t we want to reduce our nuclear stockpile if we can do it safely?” Hagel asked.
*Edward Snowden’s revelations of U.S. intelligence operations “did a lot of damage” to the country, Hagel said.
In his address to the UNO audience, Hagel said the United States is “dangerously exposed to cyberspace attacks,” and the Defense Department is taking action in increase U.S. cyber capabilities even in the face of budget cuts.
Stressing his “strong support” for the president’s nuclear arms reduction proposal, Nebraska’s former two-term Republican senator said the United States still would maintain its strong nuclear weapons capability.
“America’s military is an indispensable element of its power,” Hagel said.
“But most of the pressing security challenges America faces today have important political, economic and cultural components, and do not necessarily lend themselves to being resolved by military force.
“A strong, agile and ready military must be used judiciously,” Hagel said, “with a keen appreciation for its limits.”
Answering questions posed by his audience, Hagel said he is “somewhat hopeful” about conditions in the volatile Middle East.
“This isn’t going to get fixed in a year or under one president,” he said.
“There are some opportunities to work our way through all of this.”
On Afghanistan, Hagel said he believes attempting to engage the Taliban in peace talks is “worth the risk,” but that requires a willingness by the Hamid Karzai government to negotiate.
“The U.S. is open to the possibility of meetings,” he said.
Hagel returned to the issue of cyberwarfare during the questioning, describing it as “that new sphere of warfare (in which) you can knock out infrastructure and don’t have to fire a shot.”
Gov. Dave Heineman greeted Hagel on the campus before his speech and attended the event.
On Thursday, Hagel will visit StratCom headquarters at Offutt Air Force Base.