Pentagon budget from Defense Secretary Hagel erodes his legacy as a defense hawk

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Mr. Hagel declared himself a Biden loyalist, endorsing the foreign policy views of the man who would become vice president.

He sent Mr. Bush a letter urging him to talk to Iran’s mullahs without strings attached.

“I urge you to consider pursuing direct, unconditional and comprehensive talks with the Government of Iran,” Mr. Hagel said in a 2007 letter to the president.

At a public forum, he said: “We are afraid to talk with someone or we apply preconditions like it’s a great privilege to talk to the United States. That’s not diplomacy.”

His emerging celebrity status got him a solo appearance at the Council on Foreign Relations, where he said of Mr. Bush: “This is one of the most arrogant, incompetent administrations I’ve ever seen personally or ever read about.”

Out of office and ensconced at the Atlantic Council as chairman, Mr. Hagel became a de facto Democrat by endorsing the party’s candidates. He became dovish on any thought of attacking Iran to stop its pursuit of nuclear weapons, and he sent a warning to the Pentagon.

“I think the Pentagon needs to be pared down,” he told the Financial Times. “I don’t think that our military has really looked at themselves strategically, critically, in a long, long time.”

Mr. Hagel now is carrying out that philosophy.

“Secretary Hagel is truly having to put lipstick on the budget pig,” said Ms. Eaglen. “And he’s achieving this through lowering our strategic aims around the world, increasing the risk to U.S. forces in harm’s way. A 440,000-large Army is too small to meet the long-standing, two-war construct.”

The last time the armed forces sustained such a big budget slash was in another postwar era, during the 1990s under President George H.W. Bush and Mr. Clinton. The Clinton administration cut the number of Army divisions from 18 to 12, the number of ships from 454 to 341 and the number of fighter squadrons from 76 to 50.

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