- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s about-face — from hawkish war veteran senator to Pentagon budget cutter and liberal comrade — came full circle this week as he announced plans to make a shrinking armed forces even smaller.

In his last Senate term, the Nebraska Republican split with President George W. Bush on the Iraq War and aligned with the dominant liberal voices on the Foreign Relations Committee — Democrats Joseph R. Biden, John F. Kerry and Barack Obama.

With Mr. Hagel, that quartet now is running the country’s national security policymaking. The alliance was the beginning of Mr. Hagel’s shift on defense, which he underscored Monday.

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“Anytime you bring force structure down and capability down and resources down, that’s going to add to the risk of the dimension of the missions that you’re expected to carry out,” he told reporters in presenting a 2015 budget that was endorsed immediately by The New York Times’ liberal editorial page.

“You have fewer troops, fewer ships, fewer planes,” Mr. Hagel said.

“On this it seems he genuinely aligns himself with President Obama,” said Mackenzie Eaglen, a defense analyst at the American Enterprise Institute.

Mr. Hagel all but endorsed Mr. Obama for president in 2008 by accompanying him on a trip to the Iraq War zone. “They bonded as senators,” Ms. Eaglen said.

She said Mr. Hagel also could be influenced by his Defense Department predecessor, Robert M. Gates, who all but ruled out any more big land wars for the U.S.

“These days, it is increasingly becoming popular in the Republican Party to call for less U.S. engagement and leadership abroad,” Ms. Eaglen said.

A Senate Republican aide was less kind: “Hagel is a political opportunist. He sold out to the far left’s altar of dismantling the U.S. military to become Obama’s defense secretary.”

On Monday, Mr. Hagel essentially overruled the Army’s long-reviewed plan announced several months ago by Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, Army chief of staff. The general said he needed a 490,000-solider force to meet future global missions. Mr. Hagel said the new number is 440,000.

Mr. Hagel suspended procurement of the Navy’s cherished coastal warship at 32 and said 11 cruisers will be put on temporary duty while being modernized. He provided no firm numbers on how a 283-ship fleet can grow to 300, the Navy’s goal.

He mothballed the A-10 Thunderbolt combat jet, which proved effective in Iraq and Afghanistan in hitting ground targets. Further cuts are planned in Air Force squadrons.

The defense secretary also is curtailing grocery and housing benefits for troops.

Collectively, it’s an effort to meet Mr. Obama’s budget goals of protecting mandatory entitlement spending against Republican-demanded reforms.

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