A number of competing theories exist to explain why President Obama nominated former Sen. Chuck Hagel, the Republican from Nebraska, to be the next defense secretary. Is it because Hagel was a staunch critic of the Iraq War? Or that Vice President Joe Biden and Hagel have an especially close relationship? Or that Obama wants to get in the GOP's face after Susan Rice was forced to withdraw her candidacy to become secretary of state? The choice of Hagel is a tad mysterious, because his base of support is largely confined to the White House: Hagel is viewed as a turncoat by Republicans, and Democrats aren't crazy about him either. (Liberals may be further angered by reports that Hagel once opposed abortion in cases of rape.)
One theory is that Hagel and Obama see eye to eye on cutting the Defense Department's bloated budget. "The Pentagon needs to be pared down," Hagel told The Financial Times in 2011. "I don't think our military has really looked at themselves strategically, critically in a long time." As a result, department officials are bracing for cuts, says Craig Whitlock at The Washington Post:
David Brooks at The New York Times goes further, arguing that "Hagel has been nominated to supervise the beginning of this generation-long process of defense cutbacks." Indeed, in Brooks' view, American military might may be imperiled by such cuts, all in the name of preserving the welfare state:
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So would a Defense Secretary Hagel really lead to a demise in American military power? Consider the fact that this year's Pentagon budget is a massive $616 billion. And according to some estimates, the U.S.'s yearly defense budget is larger than that of the next 14 largest militaries combined. The military could probably shed some bulk without having its military supremacy seriously challenged.
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