Next secretary of defense faces challenges


by Jay Crandall

Posted on January 14, 2013 at 8:57 PM

Updated Tuesday, Jan 15 at 5:31 AM

PHOENIX -- President Obama recently nominated Chuck Hagel for secretary of defense.

Now, some Democrats and some Republicans are questioning his stance on Israel and Iran. And that is just the beginning of his challenges, according to Thunderbird School of Global Management professor Paul Kinsinger.

"As secretary of defense, it is his job to provide the president, along with the Chairman Joints Chief of Staff, with the most critical military advice about whether and how the United States should play a military role in any given area of the world,” Kinsinger said.

Kinsinger, who focused on the Middle East during his time with CIA, said first up, the draw down in Afghanistan.

"But I don't think anybody should be overly optimistic about what is likely to take place in Afghanistan," he said.

Kinsinger believes a post-U.S. Afghanistan will be messy, so the secretary will have to work hard on a stable transfer to begin with "something that leaves the current government and internal security structure in some kind of control," Kinsinger said.

As for Syria, he doesn not foresee a larger U.S. presence.

"I suspect that Senator Hagel, if confirmed, will bring a voice of caution to intervention," Kinsinger said.

The same goes for Iran, he adds, "And I just think this team is going to look at everything they can to avoid a costly intervention strategy."

In the Senate, Hagel did not support uni-lateral sanctions, preferring to draw in allies.

"Where it is not necessarily about the United States taking the lead simply because we are the biggest player on the block," he said.

But, Kinsinger said the biggest battle for the next secretary may be on the homefront.

"I think there is little question in my mind that the defense budget is going to have to be cut," he said.

And selling that to Congress will be fight all on its own.

"And I think to that extent, having a senator, a representative, someone who has actually been in the political process down in the trenches, even serving on the armed services or appropriations committees where the budget process is done is a good idea," Kinsinger said.

Still, he believes the new secretary will have his work cut out for him, finding the best way to keep America safe, financially strong and battle ready.

"I think it is about aligning America's post Iraq/Afghanistan national security strategies with sober appreciation of our budget and our will to do these kinds of things in the future," Kinsinger said.

Kinsinger does believe Hagel will ultimately be confirmed by the Senate.