The headlines today are that Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel wrote a "memo to the White House criticizing Syria strategy." The nature of that criticism is a bit on the vague side, though, given that it's a confidential document and all that seems to have leaked is an unattributed comment to the effect that he thinks "we need to have a sharper view of what to do about the Assad regime."
But if the memo reflects what Hagel said the other day at the Washington Ideas Forum, his real criticism may be that U.S. foreign policy hasn't, of late, had enough war in it.
At The Atlantic, David Graham notes the Defense Secretary's remarks that "What we're seeing in the Middle East with ISIL is going to require a steady, long-term effort. It's going to require coalitions of common interest."
Beyond the world's sandbox, he sees lots of fun stuff to keep U.S. diplomats and Marines engaged. "Tyranny, terrorism, the challenges and threats to our country … is going to be with us. It's a reality. I see these things continuing to stay out of there."
Strictly speaking, Hagel's comments don't seem like Teddy Roosevelt-style saber rattling—there's no specific country he wants to overwhelm with American firepower in some perceived opportunity for glory and medal ceremonies. Instead, it sounds like the foreign policy equivalent of death by a thousand cuts. Without a specific opponent or goal, there's no endgame—there's just a series of brushfires alternating with crises intermingled with confrontations.
Fairly, I think, Graham sums up Hagel's comments as "Get used to endless war."
So, if Hagel is criticizing the Obama administration's Syria strategy, it's probably a matter of emphasis rather than substance. Because he sees an unending future of more of the same.
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