Mr. Hagel's Budget Challenge

By Washington Post, Washington Post - April 9, 2013

WHEN HE WAS asked in 2011 about the possible impact of the sequestration on defense, Chuck Hagel breezily replied that the Pentagon was “bloated” and “needs to be pared down.” In his first major speech as defense secretary on Wednesday, Mr. Hagel’s assessment was considerably more sober. The $41 billion cut the department is taking this year, he said, “is already having a disruptive and potentially damaging impact on the readiness of the force.” He added that he would not “assume or tacitly accept” that “these cuts can be accommodated without a significant reduction in military capabilities.”

Still, Mr. Hagel is looking at the possibility of a major new drop in defense spending as an opportunity. The pressure of forced cuts, he said in his speech at the National Defense University, could help to “fundamentally reshape the defense enterprise to better reflect 21st-century realities.” He is right, up to a point: There is plenty of waste in the Pentagon budget. But if Mr. Hagel is to push through the kind of change he is talking about, he will need far more cooperation from the Pentagon bureaucracy and Congress than President Obama’s first two defense secretaries enjoyed. We wouldn’t bet on it.

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