National Security

Chuck Hagel Wants to Be Dwight Eisenhower

We read the senator's 2008 book on defense so that you don't have to.

What would SecDef Chuck Hagel do? With all the speculation, FP decided to go back to his 2008 manifesto, America: Our Next Chapter.

America presents Hagel as an Eisenhower conservative -- low budgets and no wars. A prominent critic of the war in Iraq, he characterizes the invasion as "the triumph of the so-called neoconservative ideology." With frequent reference to his experience as a drafted infantryman in Vietnam, Hagel gives the impression that he opposes any war of choice. That put him at odds with the Bush administration, but it may also put him at odds with the liberal interventionists in the Obama camp.

Nor is he a natural fit with the Obama administration's signature Asia pivot policy. He is wary of any strategy that smacks of "economic, political, and military containment" of China: "this kind of belligerence would be a disaster for our two nations and for the world.... such a policy would fail." Of course, the Pentagon has been increasing its naval presence in the Pacific, which, however many times U.S. officials deny it, looks like military containment, at least in Beijing.

On Iran, Hagel seems even more dovish -- though his thoughts may have changed in the four years since the book's publication. He writes at length about his concerns over policies that back Iran into a corner. "Isolating nations is risky," he writes. "It turns them inward, and makes their citizens susceptible to the most demagogic fear mongering." The answer, he says, is engagement. "Distasteful as we may find that country's rulers, the absence of any formal governmental relations with Iran ensures that we will continue to conduct this delicate international relationship through the press and speeches, as well as through surrogates and third parties, on issues of vital strategic importance to our national interests. Such a course can only result in diplomatic blind spots that will lead to misunderstandings, miscalculation, and, ultimately, conflict."

So Hagel supports direct negotiations with Iran. He laments the lack of diplomatic ties and toys with the idea of a consulate in Tehran. He also reflects fondly on meetings he had with Iranian ambassadors to the United Nations in New York.

Hagel even flirts with the idea that an Iranian bomb wouldn't be the end of the world. "[T]he genie of nuclear armaments is already out of the bottle, no matter what Iran does. In this imperfect world, sovereign nation-states possessing nuclear weapons capability (as opposed to stateless terrorist groups) will often respond with some degree of responsible, or at least sane, behavior. These governments, however hostile they may be toward us, have some appreciation of the horrific results of a nuclear war and the consequences they would suffer." Hagel's realpolitik might make Stephen Walt proud, but it may unnerve those on both sides of the aisle who believe that Iran must be stopped before it gets a nuclear weapon. Even President Obama has said that a nuclear Iran cannot be contained.

Many conservatives will recoil at the praise Hagel lavishes on the United Nations, and indeed, if secretary of defense falls through, he could well be on the next U.N. ambassador shortlist. Though he concedes it has "limitations and problems" and frequently "succumbs to the worst forms of political posturing," Hagel waxes poetic about its essential role in building coalitions on pressing issues from nuclear proliferation to global poverty, and praises its work in peacekeeping and post-conflict transitions. "[T]he United Nations," he writes, "is the only international organization that can help bring the consensus that is indispensable in finding solutions and resolving [international security] crises." Hagel's love for the institution extends back to high school, when he participated in model United Nations; he represented the Soviet Union, to hone his debate skills. As for the critics, Hagel's heard it all before, during the run-up to the Iraq war, when he and others were told there was "[n]o time for diplomacy or to build a coalition, that would be selling out our national interest to the weak-kneed United Nations!"

Oddly, Hagel almost completely avoids the subject of Afghanistan. What he does say is that it is grinding down the U.S. military, both physically and psychologically, wasting money at an alarming rate, and that he still believes an opportunity was missed when the United States refused to negotiate with the Taliban in 2003. People looking for answers about how Hagel feels about the war that could be his to wind down would best look elsewhere, but he does give the impression that he would be happy to be done with it.

The military should be happy to have him, though he concedes that the Pentagon needs to trim the fat. "Bloated budgets and lack of effective oversight and review are symptoms of deeper, structural inadequacy in our military posture," he writes, but his recommendations seem to amount to closing loopholes in contracting. In fact, he suggests growing the force to reduce U.S. reliance on security contractors. For all his talk of low budgets, his ire falls mostly on entitlement spending. "Our military has been pushed beyond the breaking point," he writes. He discusses his desire to share military burdens beyond the 1 percent of Americans who serve, better incentivize retention, and build a modern, adaptive force.

To this end, he cites President Eisenhower's farewell address (yes, the "military-industrial complex" speech). Throughout the book, Eisenhower emerges as the lodestar for Hagel's ideology. He's characterized as "a paragon as a soldier and a general, and as a leader, he understood...that war, once it is unleashed, is always uncontrollable, unpredictable, and painful far beyond the predications of those who beat the drum the loudest." Hagel wouldn't mind being thought of this way himself...someday.

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The Brothers and the Gulf

Why the Muslim Brotherhood has Gulf leaders worried -- now more than ever.

As tensions mount in Cairo over the Muslim Brotherhood's erratic political decisions, the Brotherhood is also trying to navigate suspicion about its motives from oil-rich countries in the Gulf. In particular, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has emerged as one of the Brotherhood's primary antagonists: Relations have deteriorated so much that a senior Brotherhood leader recently accused the UAE, home to more than 300,000 Egyptians, of "financing the opposition" in Egypt.

Emiratis first encountered the Muslim Brotherhood even before they had a country of their own. The UAE, along with the other states in the Arab Gulf, initially welcomed Muslim Brotherhood members fleeing Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser's persecution in the 1950s and 1960s. The Brothers flourished in the UAE: They were educated, professional, and upwardly mobile individuals who gained employment in various public and private posts, including the judicial and education sector. The UAE achieved independence in 1971, and three years later UAE nationals influenced by these new arrivals officially founded the UAE chapter of the Muslim Brotherhood, known as Al Islah ("Reform").

But Al Islah soon ran afoul of the UAE government: According to one former member, it drifted away from its stated, benign activities of "sports, culture, charitable work, and social activities" and into political activities. By the early 1990s, the UAE's judicial and education sector was effectively a state within a state: The Brotherhood would make sure that those who qualified for educational scholarships and grants were either Brotherhood members, affiliates, or sympathizers. Within a short period, the student councils and professional associations -- such as the jurist and teachers union -- were turned into Muslim Brotherhood outposts dedicated to advancing their interests.

In 2006, the UAE started reassigning Al Islah members who worked in the education field to other posts -- a move to decrease their influence on young Emiratis. Since the Brotherhood members were no longer in a position to pick scholarship awardees, they attempted to set up UAE student councils in countries as far afield as Australia to recruit new members. The emergence of a moderately Islamist government in Turkey also offered Al Islah members an ideal location to connect with Brotherhood members across the Middle East. Some meetings were held under the auspices of Western governments and associations, prompting the UAE to shut down a number of NGOs and think tanks.

In the past year, relations have gone from bad to worse. The UAE launched a nationwide crackdown against Al Islah, detaining scores of its members and affiliates and going so far as to accuse it of setting up an "armed wing" in the country. At the heart of the UAE's hostility to the Muslim Brotherhood is the fear that -- unlike home grown parties or blocs -- the group believes that its allegiance to a transnational Islamist network, headed by the supreme guide, trumps allegiance to the nation-state.

Recent developments in Egypt -- where President Mohamed Morsy seems determined to advance the Brotherhood's interests over that of all Egyptians -- have only exacerbated such fears. The main obstacle to building ties between the UAE and the new Egyptian government comes from the clandestine links the Egyptian Brotherhood maintains with underground cells in the UAE. The Brotherhood's history of not keeping promises to its own people also doesn't bode well for promises given to foreign governments such as the UAE.

Disagreements about the Brotherhood also profoundly shape the political battle lines between the Gulf Arab states. Qatar enjoys the best relations with the Brothers, offering financial aid and the dedicated media "mouthpiece" of Al Jazeera to the service of the group. The UAE, by cracking down on the Brotherhood, is positioning itself as the regional counterbalance to neighboring Qatar.

Despite the Brotherhood's closeness to Qatar, the group is most keen on building ties with Saudi Arabia. According to one senior Gulf source with whom I spoke, the Brotherhood had given the Saudi government specific assurances regarding its position toward Iran, which the kingdom views as its main regional rival. However, Saudi leaders remain skeptical of the group -- even after the death of former Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef, who was known for his hatred of the organization, and after numerous Brotherhood visits. One senior source present during recent negotiations in Turkey to coordinate support for Syrian rebels informed me of the kingdom's strict rejection of a Muslim Brotherhood figure as head the Syrian opposition.

As for the UAE, its effort to stamp out illegal Muslim Brotherhood activities has also become a litmus test for the country's judicial process. The UAE has held scores of citizens for months without trial as part of this effort, even as the UAE's laws demand that every citizen to be granted a transparent trial. Abdul-Ghaffar Hussein, the head of the government-appointed UAE Human Rights Association, has called on the country's Federal Public Prosecution to "end the interrogation of detainees as soon as possible and bring the detainees to trial."

The UAE is a small country, and it is understandably challenged by a transnational organization that uses religion as a means of attaining political power. But these risks can best be countered not only through security measures, but also with proper education, stronger secular laws, and political reforms that allow UAE nationals to become stakeholders in their country's development. A little international pressure wouldn't hurt either: Perhaps the United States, the Brotherhood's "main enabler" in the region, could emphasize to Morsy that he would be better served to govern as the president of Egypt, not the president of the Muslim Brotherhood.