Need for straight talk from US Defense Department

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PARIS -- Christmas has provided a day of distraction from war, the usual condition for most of the world, and the steady-state of the modern American nation, so to speak.

At the end of 1941, following Pearl Harbor, the United States had a War Department, as had been the case since 1789. This became the Defense Department in 1949, which might be called the year when plain speaking ended in the United States government.

1949 was the same year in which the NATO alliance was created by a government whose first president, George Washington, had said in his farewell address that "it is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliance with any portion of the foreign world" -- unrealistic advice, no doubt, but advice which the United States managed to follow for the century that followed.

President Woodrow Wilson set for the United States the perpetual task on which it has persevered ever since, which is war to end wars, an undertaking that will be completed only when all real or contemplated challengers have been crushed -- the reason the U.S. now has larger military forces than all the rest of the world combined, with elements in its Congress avid for more.

One of the assets of former Republican senator Chuck Hagel from Nebraska, now a professor at Georgetown, is to be a plain speaker. This is the reason he seems generally thought in Washington today to be unfit for the post of secretary of defense, to which President Barack Obama has been suspected of nominating him. The former senator served in the Vietnam War as an infantry leader and was wounded and decorated. He criticized the genesis and conduct of that war, and as a member of the Senate, opposed the American invasion of Iraq and the war with Iraq.

He has also declined to support the bipartisan American policy of subordinating American national interests to those of Israel, for which the furies of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the Anti-Defamation League and allied supporters of Zionism and holders of Washington public office who benefit from their support, have been loosed upon him.

In the case of former ambassador Charles Freeman (Assistant Secretary for Defense for International Security Affairs in 1993-'94), who in President Obama's first term was bruited to become chairman of the National Intelligence Council (which prepares National Intelligence Estimates), and who was then massively attacked as lacking the appropriate obeisance to Israeli policies, the president chose (to use a Zionist polemical expression) "to throw him under the bus."

The same fate may await Hagel, since outside election campaigns President Obama has not shown himself to be much of a fighter. Such would be a great pity because the U.S. Defense Department is probably the Washington entity most in need of a new leader who speaks plainly and expresses straightforward opinions.

Aside from the current wars and foreshadowed wars, or prospective wars advocated by interest groups in the U.S, preparations of singularly dubious justification have been authorized by the first Obama administration. The execution of these needs energetic and dispassionate scrutiny.

Why, for example, is the United States assuming a provocative military stance towards China? The U.S. has defensive commitments to Japan, Taiwan and to South Korea. It has a right to insist that China's territorial and maritime disputes with these countries, and others that dispute its claims in the South China Sea and various islands and coastal territories, be adjudicated in international law or find negotiated settlements.

Why has Washington made a heavily publicized military "pivot" from Europe and Central and West Asia to East Asia? Does it wish to signal an expectation of war with China, instead of peaceful negotiation of difficulties? Why the preposterous stationing of marines in Australia (With New Zealand seemingly to come)? Why new drone bases in Australia's Cocos Islands, the Philippines and the Mariana islands?

Why has the head of the U.S Pacific Command declared the Pacific Ocean a "commons," which will be protected by the United States? One would think an ocean to be a commons in whose security all its littoral states share an interest.

Why should Myanmar, Thailand and Cambodia be considered potential "military allies" of the U.S. (according to President Obama, on his recent visit there)? Should China's defense authorities seek military alliances with Venezuela, Cuba, Mexico and Colombia? Why not?

Why is the U.S. Army's African Command building small but permanently manned and expandable "lily-pad bases" throughout Africa? With whom in Africa is the U.S. planning war?

Why, for that matter, are the two most advanced American fighter aircraft, the F-22 "Raptor," and the F-35 "Lightning" (or joint strike fighter), not yet operational, with both going billions of dollars over programmed costs? The F-35 is stuck in an early test phase, and the F-22, meant to fight a Soviet airplane never built, has been grounded because of a thus-far insoluble problem of man-machine interface in oxygen supply (the pilot faints).

These are things about which there has been next to no straight talk from the Pentagon. You are needed, Mr. Hagel!

(Visit William Pfaff's Web site for more on his latest book, "The Irony of Manifest Destiny: The Tragedy of America's Foreign Policy" (Walker & Co., $25), at http://www.williampfaff.com.)

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Andy Green, the opinion editor, has taken the "know a little bit about everything" approach in his time at The Sun. He was the city/state editor before coming to the editorial board, and prior to that he covered the State House and Baltimore County government.

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