Secretary Chuck Hagel served as the head of the Department of Defense (DOD) for a grand total of 21 months and, like those previous to him, was an enabler to President Obama’s misguided foreign policy. As the world continues to deteriorate, the next Secretary of Defense will have to do what previous Secretaries have failed to do—fundamentally change the nation’s foreign policy to acknowledge the threats facing the United States, and more importantly, identify the resources needed to protect the nation.

Secretary Hagel presided over two budget cycles and multiple strategic reviews. All these documents attempted to sell the same narrative: The United States could credibly meet emerging threats at the reduced budget levels. This, of course, was pure fantasy and has been soundly rejected by many of those in Congress and the defense community.

  • The Strategic Choices Management Review (SCMR) is affectionately referred to as the “scammer.” This strategic document lays out missions for the DOD based on an austere budget environment. The problem is that the budget cuts were not based on strategic planning or threat assessments, but were arbitrarily forced on the department because it was easier than reforming entitlement spending.
  • The 2014 Quadrennial Review (QDR) was released in conjunction with the fiscal year (FY) 2015 President’s Budget Request. Following the release, Congressman McKeon, Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said the 2014 QDR “has more to do with politics than policy and is of little value to decision makers.” In essence, the document was a rubber stamp of the budget request, which was an arbitrary number set during political negotiations. The original intent of the QDR process was to inform Congress of strategic risk and provide the government with the necessary information to craft a responsible budget. Congress has rejected the document for failing to have any real strategic thought and has asked the Department to re-write the review.
  • The FY 2015 budget continued the trend of failed strategic thinking. The DOD spends a considerable amount of resources planning their budget. All components build on one another; for example, a certain Army force size requires a set number of vehicles and ammunition, impacts rotational schedules, and determines medical care costs. The FY 2015 budget was initially planned to meet the budget levels. However, those plans were quickly tossed out the window when it became clear what was affordable under this budget level. Another example: The Navy built their entire budget around a force size of 10 aircraft carriers, which impacts aircrafts, sailors, maintenance requirements, and so on. When the Administration decided that 10 aircraft carriers was too small of a force size, leaders in the Pentagon and White House added the 11th carrier back into the budget. However, the budget could not be properly adjusted to reflect the new force size in time. Similar force-sizing problems also existed with the Army and Marine Corps budgets.
  • A FY 2015 budget level requested by the President was $115 billion over the Budget Control Act discretionary caps over five years. The year before, the President’s budget request was twice as high over the discretionary caps. In other words, in FY 2015 the Defense Department reduced their overall budget request by $113 billion from the year before. But the Pentagon never provided a justification as to why the department could reduce their budget by this amount. All facts are indicating that they cannot.

The new Secretary of Defense cannot continue the trend of playing politics with the defense budget. This person must reverse course and begin to inject strategic thinking back into the Pentagon. The recent bipartisan National Defense Panel provides a good review of the state of our military and what resources are required to actually meet national security requirements. This would be a good place for the Secretary to start. The United States cannot afford another two years of the same policy.