Press Interview – Presenters: Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel interview with Charlie Rose on November 19, 2014:
“ROSE: Mr. Secretary, thank you for the opportunity to visit with you at the Pentagon.
Let me begin with the question of national security and how you perceive the biggest threats to America in some order of priority.
HAGEL: Charlie, thank you. And thanks for coming today.
We are living at one of these times in history where there is a confluence of threats and challenges. Like I don’t think we’ve ever seen before, certainly in our lifetime, the sophistication of technology. So many other factors have brought this on. Obviously, terrorism — what terrorism is today, the sophistication, the financing of terrorist groups is right up there at the top. And we are dealing with our partners across the globe. Conventional dimensions of an early 21st century world where we’re seeing the Chinese build and the Russians build capabilities that are new, asymmetric threats, cyber for example. Something ten years ago we knew about, we thought we knew something about. Totally has changed landscapes without, by the way, threats, without firing a shot or invading a country. You could take down financial systems and energy grids.
Certainly I think what we’re seeing with Ebola, pandemic health challenges. If some of these deadly viruses would not be contained, what it could do, would do, to nations and areas. I think climate change is an area that we’re going to have to continue to be mindful of because climate change does have, will have significant effects on our strategic interests around the world.
All of these are dimensions of threats but a couple that don’t get I believe a lot of attention is what does all of this do to economies and societies. And the cohesiveness of the world order — Henry Kissinger’s new book “World Order” is a magnificent testament to that. And there are threats there too. We know if society has come unhinged if governments go down. No jobs, no governance, no hope, non-governed spaces in the world today.
Certainly North Africa, we’re seeing some parts of the Middle East are threats to order and stability and security. There cannot be economic prosperity without stability and security so I think all of those things together Charlie represents an answer.
ROSE: What is the status on the ground today in the fight against ISIS?
HAGEL: Well that’s our priority. Our anti-ISIS strategy is comprehensive. First, going back to a point I just made about governance, we need to help in every way we can the Iraqi government stabilize. Strengthen its security forces. We’re helping do that.
But that’s the Iraqi responsibility. That’s the people of Iraq. A new inclusive government, a participatory government that the new prime minister…
ROSE: Are you satisfied that government is taking place, that the new Prime Minister is doing that and that he is different from Maliki in terms of Sunni versus Shia?
HAGEL: Charlie there are early signs that he is. This is difficult. This is long term — the alienation that has occurred in Iraq over the last five years, the sectarian violence that it has produced. Certainly we’re seeing that in Anbar Province with the Sunni tribes.
Prime Minister Abadi has just recently appointed a new minister of defense. We haven’t had a minister of defense over there for over four years. It’s a Sunni minister of defense who I’ve spoken to we’re working with. Chairman Dempsey was just over there last weekend. There are good signs that they’re moving in the right direction will help them. Our coalition partners over 60 people are helping and will support them. But they have to — they have to do this, themselves.
Then I think the air strikes against the ISIL forces to assist the people there, to assist the government.
ROSE: Have they turned the tide?
HAGEL: This is a long term challenge, Charlie. There’s good progress being made everywhere — the good news for example in the last few days about Iraqi Security Forces now joining up Peshmerga around the oil refinery. There will be setbacks. There will be progress. Overall, we’re seeing good progress. We’re not where we need to be yet but this is a longer term, difficult, challenging mission.
ROSE: You have 1,400 American advisers there now in Special Forces. There is a call for 1,500 more. When will they go?
HAGEL: We’ll start sequencing those new Americans in here starting over the next few weeks. They are going, as you know, to provide the training and the assistance and the equipping of 12 Iraqi security force brigades which includes three Peshmerga brigades. We have many coalition partners that will be providing trainers as well. We have designated four areas in Iraq to do that.
ROSE: Is there review at the Pentagon and with the White House to reconsider our options there. Is there a review of American strategy in Iraq and Syria?
HAGEL: There is no official review of any of the decisions that the President has made or strategy what there is on a continuing basis, there must be always an assessment of how well we’re doing. Do we need to adjust?
Are there areas that we need to reshape? Sure. I mean you have to do that. To make sure that what we’re doing is the right thing and to make sure that we’re doing it in the smartest, most efficient, effective way.
ROSE: And is there an imbalance between Iraq and Syria?
HAGEL: An imbalance?
ROSE: Yes, an imbalance in terms of what we’re doing and what we can do because of the necessity to have troops on the ground to deal with ISIS.
HAGEL: Well, the troops on the ground in Iraq are the Iraqi security forces and the Peshmerga troops and they are required. And this isn’t going to be done just by air strikes. Air strikes help tremendously. But it’s their troops on the ground.
But to your bigger question yes Iraq is different from the situation in Syria. For example in Iraq, we were invited in, the United States by a sovereign nation, a sovereign government, the Iraqi government. We’re working with the sovereign elected government. We’re working with a military in Iraq.
Syria is a different situation, but the strategy doesn’t change, it isn’t different. Our strategy is an anti-ISIL strategy and the President has said we’ve all said we will go after ISIL because they threaten us clearly.
ROSE: What is the difference is that in Syria you have President Assad, Bashar al Assad.
ROSE: You know and therefore there are some people who are part of the coalition believe that the fight must be to overturn him as strong as it is to combat ISIL.
HAGEL: That’s true. There are many interests and many views on Assad. Our view has not changed that Assad must go.
ROSE: But does that mean you have to fight a two-front war essentially; you have to fight him as well as fight ISIL?
HAGEL: Well, first our strategy is anti-ISIL. What we’re doing is to support the Iraqi government in every way we can. And we have been doing that consistently and at a very high rate of assistance the last six months.
That also carries over into eastern Syria. As we have said there are no borders when it comes to terrorism especially the ruthlessness brutality of ISIS. So we are — we are doing what we can in Syria to facilitate our anti-ISIL strategy. And that is eventually as we degrade ISIL to destroy.
ROSE: But aren’t you getting some pressure from your allies to do more against Assad?
HAGEL: There are different points of view by some of the coalition partners. I understand that. There are different points of view among our allies on everything.
ROSE: Are there different points of view in this administration between you and Secretary Kerry?
ROSE: Whether if you defeat ISIL it helps or hurts Assad.
HAGEL: Well obviously I just explained what our strategy is regarding ISIL. Is Assad being benefited, helped by the what we’re doing, other countries against ISIL? He’s indirectly benefiting. But here, let’s review the landscape here. Why has all of this occurred? This has all occurred because over the last three years, Assad his brutality, his lack of responsible government, his legitimacy in government, what he’s done to his own people has produced this. It’s Assad who has produced this. There’s not going to be a military solution in Syria, there only can be a diplomatic solution and people coming together enough and no one wants a failed, completely failed government in Syria. Syria right now has produced the millions of refugees, a million and-a-half in Turkey. It could get far worse.
So all our coalition partners are consistent on this one issue. How Assad leaves office is critically important.
ROSE: And my impression is that the Turks, for example, and the Saudi Arabia wants you drive much to keep Assad in focus and are worried that you’re not doing that. You sent a memo to secretary, to National Security Adviser Susan Rice calling for a more, as I understand it, holistic approach. What did you mean?
HAGEL: Well Charlie, you know I’m not going to share confidential memos.
ROSE: Share your ideas about what a holistic approach would entail.
HAGEL: We are taking a holistic approach. By that I mean as I said earlier, about what we’re doing to help stabilize Iraq first. Help support an inclusive government there. It reaches out to all the people of Iraq that is able to essentially gain the confidence and trust of the people. Working with moderate opposition in Syria. As you know we’ve announced training sites for training and equipping moderate Syrian opposition. The Turks, the Saudis have already committed their camps. We’re doing the pre-planning we need to.
So we’re working with everybody on all these areas in these areas, and it is a comprehensive strategy. It is diplomatic, it’s economic, it’s military. It’s working with over 60 coalition partners, a number of them there in the Middle East.
ROSE: But there have been reports that the administration is looking again at its policy towards President Assad. Because of pressure from the allies, because of questions being raised as to whether he was benefiting from the rise of ISIL.
HAGEL: Well, you can invert that and say we should just leave ISIL alone. And that would solve that problem, wouldn’t it. That’s not a wise policy, that’s not our policy and that’s not going to be our policy. But again the answer here the longer term answer, as well as we build toward that, is not a military solution here. The people of Syria are going to have to be able to rely on at some point some kind of political solution to govern their country, give them the freedoms that they want.
We are helping the coalition partners and our moderate opposition partners in Syria get to that point. But the first priority Charlie, the most dangerous is ISIL. It’s a threat to all of us, to everybody and to — and certainly to the Middle East.
ROSE: When will it be necessary to do something different and to interject more combat troops?
HAGEL: Well I know the question many people ask but I also know what our policy is and what the President’s been very clear about. And he has said he will not commit American combat military operation in the Middle East.
There will be and there is combat there in Syria and Iraq — boots on the ground in Iraq. But they’re not Americans fighting that war. We’re training, we’re advising, we’re equipping, doing all the things we can.
ROSE: But the Chairman of the Joint Chief has said that there may come a time is which he has to recommend to the President to inject more combat troops there in order to stop ISIL. So the question is, what circumstances would produce that decision?
HAGEL: Well two things. I think we should be clear on what General Dempsey has said. I never heard General Dempsey say and I sat right next to him at a hearing last week, that he might eventually, essentially say we need to have the United States put troops and leave combat operations in Iraq. I didn’t hear him say that.
Now it is the responsibility of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. It’s his constitutional responsibility to the President, to the Secretary of Defense to continue to give us every option. We seek that. The President asks for that. I asked for that. We need that. We constantly are assessing as I’ve already said what we’re doing, what we need more of less of, is it being effective, is it working.
But the issue of actually having America go back into Iraq and fight that war again, the President’s been pretty clear on that and I never heard General Dempsey say that.
ROSE: He has said that the counterattack would have to take place within a year and that the climactic battle might be from Mosul.
HAGEL: Well Mosul is going to be a critical area and that Iraqi security force in Peshmerga effort to retake Mosul will occur. It has to occur in order for the Iraqis to regain the territory they have lost, a good amount of Anbar Province in their western part of their country, they’re going to have to take Mosul back.
ROSE: What’s the nature of cooperation with Iran and Iraq?
HAGEL: We have no coordination with Iran and Iraq — no.
ROSE: With respect to the nuclear negotiations do you think they’ll meet the deadline.
HAGEL: Secretary Kerry’s people, Wendy Sherman and others who put an awful lot of time and effort in this with our partners, the P5- plus-1 partners, are working toward that deadline. Obviously we hope that it will end up with something that we can agree on. But the President’s been very clear. A bad deal is a bad deal and we won’t take it. No deal is better than a bad deal, and we get that. We all understand it. We all hope that this issue of Iran’s nuclear future as to their capabilities of building a nuclear weapon.
But that can be peacefully resolved and I still believe that. I believe that. We all believe that. But we’ve got to see the action. We’ve got to see it happen.
ROSE: What happens if we don’t get a deal?
HAGEL: Well, I won’t get into the hypotheticals of these things, but I prefer to deal with what we’ve got now. The possibilities that are on track — my role as Secretary of Defense, as I have the responsibility of security and defense of this country, is to assure the President of the United States he has all the military options that are required in any situation. And we’re doing that.
But the smart, wise, responsible approach here is the approach we’re taking with our P5 partners in trying to find a diplomatic solution to this. And we’ll continue to work hard on it.
ROSE: You’re convinced that they want nuclear weapons?
HAGEL: I’m not convinced of anything one way or another. I deal with facts and what I see and what I know. And it’s clear to me that the Iranians have not given up on an option that they have continued to maintain and build.
ROSE: But may not have made a decision to go ahead.
HAGEL: I don’t know about decisions. But I think the important thing is what they have at least in my opinion, I think the opinion of many, that they have maintained that option to be able to go forward. That’s what we want to get at. And that’s what we’re working on now. What would they require in order to walk away from that? What is in our interest in order to be able to work an agreement with them on this?
ROSE: What’s a good deal?
HAGEL: Well, a good deal would be to have an agreement where the Iranians would back down from preparations and options, capacity to build a nuclear weapon. I think a good deal for everybody — and everybody has to get something out of it, I get that — would be to allow sanctions to start coming off, for them a good deal, economic sanctions which we know has hurt them terribly. If they want, have an opportunity for them to start to come in to a world order. It’s important.
ROSE: And Russia helping is off the table now?
HAGEL: No, Russia’s still part of the P5-plus-one.
ROSE: … to have some of the centrifuges and the fuel stuff come to them.
HAGEL: They have put forward different plans. No, the Russians are an important part of this.
ROSE: Overall in the Middle East I saw a piece by Tom Friedman the other day and he said “Ever since the Arab awakening in the late 2010 America’s lurched from one policy response to another. We tried decapitation without invasion in Libya, it failed. We tried abdication in Syria, it failed. We tried democratization in Egypt, endorsing the election of the Muslim Brotherhood, it failed. We tried invasion, occupation, abdication and now re-intervention in Iraq. And although the jury is still out, only a fool would be optimistic. Maybe the beginning of wisdom is admitting that we don’t know what we are doing out here more importantly we don’t have the will to invest overwhelming force for the time it would take to reshape any of these places. And even if we did it is not clear it would work. So if the Middle East is a region we can neither fix nor ignore what’s left. I’m for” he said “containment and amplification.”
Does any of that ring true or resonate with you?
HAGEL: When you look at the entire inventory of what he said, it’s pretty hard to disagree with a lot of the points. We’ve had such good policies that we over the years and we probably wouldn’t be in this situation. But here is the reality. We live in this imperfect, dynamic, changing, threatening dangerous interconnected world that we have never seen before. We have never seen anything like this before.
And so policies, yes, are predicated on historical knowledge and cultural awareness and all that goes into that. Have we made mistakes over a series of many years, I don’t think we have. I think anybody would agree to that. But that’s not the issue. That’s not the responsibility I have now or the President has or John Kerry. Our responsibilities now are to find ways that we can make it better. Find strategies and policies that work within a world of uncontrollables.
We’re living in this world, Charlie, over there especially in the Middle East of uncontrollables. All the different dynamics we can’t control. Just exactly what Tom Friedman pointed out we don’t control. So what do we control? How then can we take whatever it is we have and try to assist the people there to build something for their future?
Getting back to Henry Kissinger’s book “World Order” — we’re seeing a new world order being defined right before our eyes. We’re right in the middle of it. And so yes, it is difficult to come up with policies that work, are relevant, that we’re not only always adjusting on but some won’t work. And I don’t know anybody smart enough in the world today who has yet come up with two or three of these policies that are absolutes.
So Friedman’s points I get. He and I have had long conversations about this. He’s not wrong about some of this. But we’ve got to keep going and we’ve got to manage through this very dangerous time in the world.
ROSE: The question is do we have the will and the capacity to influence the events as we used to?
HAGEL: I think it isn’t so much the will, I don’t think. I think our capacity is different because the threats and the challenges are far more diffuse and varied. I talked about asymmetric threats. I mean the sophistication of ISIL — just take that for a moment. We’ve never seen an organization like ISIL that is so well-organized, so well-trained, so well-funded, so strategic, so brutal, so completely ruthless. We’ve never seen anything quite like that in one institution.
Then they blend in ideology which will eventually lose, we get that, and social media. The sophistication of their social media program is something that we’ve never seen before. You blend all of that together, that is an incredibly powerful new threat. So we’re adjusting to this and we’re trying to — we can’t do it alone. It has to be with partnerships. It has to be with coalitions. We can’t go impose our will on any country. That’s complete folly.
ROSE: But people worry if the people that we want to coordinate with have the same objectives we do…
ROSE: … in stopping ISIL. Or do they have other objectives?
HAGEL: Well I don’t know of a country in the Middle East that does not want to stop ISIL. Maybe there is one but every country in the Middle East sees ISIL as a clear threat.
ROSE: Including Iran.
HAGEL: Including Iran. That’s right.
ROSE: Both Sunni and Shia.
HAGEL: That’s right. They murder everybody.
ROSE: So how are you going to do it? How are you going to do it?
HAGEL: First of all I think you can’t do it alone. We have to recognize that. We have more capacity, capability and power than any one nation in the world. But in these situations, we can’t do it alone. That means coalitions. That means partnerships. Yes, there will be differences in those partnerships — differences of emphasis and priorities. Should Assad go first or ISIL go first? But you build around the common interests of where we can come together. Then you work from there as to the differences. And we’re doing that by the way and I would say, I think pretty well. When you consider over 60 nations coming together, everyone contributing something, some way in Syria or Iraq, including air strikes, and be able to put all that together even though you do have different interests, that’s not insignificant. That’s the way you win. That’s the way you stabilize a secure parts of the world. It’s going to take time.
ROSE: And it’s a given that you can’t do it with air power alone.
HAGEL: Not with air power alone. It is a component of a comprehensive strategy, an important component but not alone.
ROSE: We talk about other places in the world — Russia. Are they sending troops into eastern Ukraine first? Should we be sending more weapons to, lethal weapons to the Ukrainians to stop them or what else should we do? We’re sending them in first.
HAGEL: We are working closely with Ukrainians. I just spoke two weeks ago to the new Ukrainian minister of defense, reviewed their latest list of requests for assistance — lethal, non-lethal. We’ve been providing a lot of non-lethal.
ROSE: When will we provide lethal?
HAGEL: We’re reviewing every request right now on everything. We’re working with NATO. We’re working with our 27 other NATO partners with Ukraine. We’ve also said — the President said, all of our NATO partners have said — this is not going to be about eventually a military solution. It’s going to have to be dealt with through diplomatic solution. Now we’ve also responded to that.
ROSE: Diplomacy and sanctions.
HAGEL: That’s right. We have — I think been very effective with economic sanctions. Not because I say it but let’s look at some facts. Last week the Russian economic forecasters came out publicly and said growth for Russia next year may be zero in their…
ROSE: Partly because of fallen oil prices.
HAGEL: But there are other parts too. Their ruble is at an all time low. Inflation all time high. Their foreign investment in their country has dried up; falling oil prices and energy prices — that’s true. Now that alone, Charlie, doesn’t fix the problem, absolutely. Our new rotational patterns of our military, NATO military, I think bringing NATO together in a way we haven’t seen since the fall of the Berlin Wall 25 years ago.
ROSE: On the same page with respect to Russia.
HAGEL: That’s right. In the end what’s happening here is Russia is isolating itself in the world. Now in the long term, they will suffer tremendous consequences. But in the short term we’ve got to deal with what we’ve got to deal. It’s all of these comprehensive things coming together to help the Ukrainians and to deal with this problem. It’s not going to get solved in a major war.
ROSE: But is it likely you’ll send lethal weapons to the Ukrainians.
HAGEL: We’re looking at everything that they have requested. But again, if I said that our policy, and I think all of our partners policy, is that a diplomatic solution not a military solution is going to be required here. We’re balancing that with what kind of weapons we would be sending or lethal weapons we would be sending.
ROSE: Do you think this is about Ukraine or is it about Putin and a larger role that he wants to play in the world? Because we also have acknowledgment they have bombers flying in the Caribbean and off the shore of Mexico and that they are bearing nuclear weapons.
HAGEL: Well there’s no question that the Russians have upped their military activity many times over the last couple of years. And you just noted a couple examples. Unfortunately, President Putin sees and has said it most recently I think in his speech today, that he just doesn’t accept a world order as it is. And unfortunately — well, look at what they did in the invasion of Crimea. What they are doing, currently doing as they support the separatists in eastern Ukraine. He’s activating more and closer air and maritime activity by the Russians that we haven’t seen since the Cold War.
He’s challenging a world order that has been pretty important the last few years as we’ve come down and through some significant events beginning with the implosion of the Soviet Union. I think he, President Putin — he’s never told me this, but I judge him by his actions not his words. I listen to what he says but more importantly I look at what’s going on. He’s got a different view of a Russian empire, I think. And I think he’s going to continue to challenge — he’ll challenge us in the West in a lot of areas.
ROSE: Is it troubling in terms that you’d witnessed the fact that he just met with the Chinese leader Xi Jinping and they’re talking about the best relationship they’ve had in a long time?
HAGEL: Well, yes, it is troubling. But that’s not new either. I mean we’ve seen that coalition of common interests since World War II. But we watch it. It is not helpful. They use each other. Much of this is to try to contain us and push the United States and the West back in other areas. We understand that. But it’s something we pay a lot of attention to. We have to.
I said earlier here in this conversation Charlie that the world is dangerous. It is damn dangerous.
ROSE: And getting more dangerous.
HAGEL: And it’s getting more dangerous. And it isn’t just because of ISIL…
ROSE: … because China’s aggressive.
HAGEL: All of these different dimensions that are out there and this is strange…
HAGEL: … all these things. This is also interesting, and we the Defense Department are being called upon to do more everywhere. I mean look at the last six months where we now are involved where we weren’t six months ago. And our budget continues to be cut. Something doesn’t connect here and that’s going to have to change.
ROSE: And if it doesn’t?
HAGEL: Well, if it doesn’t.
ROSE: We will not have the resources to meet the challenges internationally.
HAGEL: We won’t have the resources. We won’t have the readiness. We won’t have the capability. We won’t have the long term investments that this institution requires to stay ahead of everybody else as we have since World War Two with a technological edge, with the ability to continue to recruit, retain the best people.
You know, no institution has anything unless you have people. And it doesn’t matter how much sophistication you have and the technology if you don’t have the right people, you don’t have much. And all this will come together as it is now with these huge deep abrupt cuts at a time the world is becoming more dangerous, not less dangerous. And we’re being asked to do more.
ROSE: Congressional leaders not listening to you.
HAGEL: They’re going to have an opportunity.
ROSE: And more sequestration would be devastating.
HAGEL: Devastating. If this continues — all the chiefs, the Joint Chiefs, have said this clearly, plainly, I say it, General Dempsey said it, all our leaders of our institutions — that we will cut so deeply into readiness and to our ability to carry out our missions and it will have a direct impact on every facet of our security. It can’t help but have that. So I’m hopeful that this new Congress which will come in, in January, will take the opportunity with new budget hearings and we’re going to have to get into that and make the point. I’m very hopeful that they will do the right thing and the responsible to stop it.
ROSE: You can’t do it by continuing resolutions.
HAGEL: You can’t do it by continuing resolutions — it’s too dangerous. You can’t run any institution by the uncertainty of maybe you’ll get funding in six months, maybe you won’t, maybe it will be the same, maybe it won’t. Especially you can’t run national security — national security on the basis of hope of a continuing resolution.
ROSE: And you’re talking about running the largest institution in the world.
HAGEL: It is the largest institution in the world.
ROSE: We talk about cyber and also nuclear cyber. The Russians are accused of hacking. The Chinese are accused of cyber espionage. Tell me what is the difference in what we’re doing in order to combat that and how serious a threat it is.
HAGEL: Well, it’s a serious threat. It has been. It continues to be with the sophistication of technology. And resources applied to that technology which the Russians are doing, the Chinese are doing and others, by the way. We have the best most capable defensive institutions in the world.
Going back to the budget issue, if we continue to take the cuts and sequestration plays out, then that will erode, there’s no question about it. But right now we have the capability in this country to defend this country whether it’s cyber, whether it’s space or any other domain. But that doesn’t diminish the seriousness of the threats coming back.
ROSE: And the threat is growing.
HAGEL: And the threat is growing.
ROSE: How is it different between what the Russians seem to be doing and what the Chinese seem to be doing?
HAGEL: It’s an interesting question because I think you always have to go back — talk about Friedman’s column — to history. You know, we’re all products — even cultures and societies and countries — in many ways of our history. That doesn’t mean we can’t change, we don’t change, generational change, absolutely. But the Chinese have had a history of not, certainly in the last probably 200 years, have not had a history of any hegemonic movement.
ROSE: They protect their (inaudible) empire.
HAGEL: That’s right. They protect what they have, what they think is theirs. And that’s part of the South China Sea/East China Sea issues.
The Russians have been different on that. I mean look at the 16 Soviet republics and the domination — complete domination of Central Asia and Eastern Europe in the captive nations and so on. And so I think their interests are different in some ways but the same in many other ways. And I suspect that there’s a clear understanding that they have with each other and certainly within that we, the United States, the west continues to threaten them. We do not.
I mean you know, look at after the implosion with the Soviet Union when NATO reached out to then Russia and we brought them in, in different ways to NATO. Not a member of NATO, not inviting them to be NATO but different committees and commissions. They sat at some of the tables — trade and commerce, key especially for the Chinese. And we’re doing more and more with them, with the President’s trip over there. There were some agreements.
ROSE: But you see the Chinese as more aggressive now because of what they’re doing. You know, they clearly want to be a sea power. They talk about nuclear submarines. They talk about their carriers. They talk about wanting to be dominant in the Pacific.
HAGEL: That’s true. And they are going forward with actions.
ROSE: What should we do in response?
HAGEL: I don’t think it’s a matter of approaching it how do we respond to that. I think it’s more “let’s play our game” and the entire rebalance of the Asia Pacific is not about containing China. It never was. We have been a Pacific power for many, many years. Our interests clearly — economic interests, many interests are in Asia Pacific, our friendships. Most of our treaty obligations are to nations the Asia Pacific.
ROSE: Including Japan.
HAGEL: Including Japan, Republic of South Korea. And so it’s not a matter of a philosophy to contain China or stopping China. We recognize what you said, that they are developing a blue water navy. But what we need to focus on is continuing to sustain our strengths, our capabilities and probably as important as anything, partnerships. All the new things we’re doing with other countries there — the relationships.
I’ve been over there since I’ve been Secretary of Defense on long trips, six times. I spend time with ASEAN nations — defense ministers. The first time ASEAN defense ministers are invited in the United States I had them in Hawaii this spring — All ten of the ASEAN defense ministers in for about three days for a conference. It wasn’t just about the military, it was about human issues and natural disasters and humanitarian assistance.
ROSE: I want to get to nuclear. Tell me how surprised you were when you looked at how we protect, maintain and serve our own nuclear weaponry.
HAGEL: Well, you probably are referring to the two…
ROSE: I clearly am.
HAGEL: — reviews that I directed earlier this year…
HAGEL: … internal, external review. Well, two things. I think bottom line to come out of it and we’ve released the unclassified versions as you know last week. Two main things: one is the reassurance of the American people and our allies and our adversaries that we still possess a safe, effective, efficient, secure, ready nuclear deterrent. That’s one thing.
Two, we have been at war, grinding land wars, large land wars far away for 13 years and the focus has been on those wars. And of course, and that means resources, that means energy, that mains leadership. And I think the nuclear deterrent Charlie has just kind of, the attitude is unwound in the sense they do such a good job that we take it for granted there’s not going to be a nuclear exchange.
ROSE: If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.
HAGEL: Just leave it alone. Well, that’s had consequences. You can’t leave any institution alone. You can’t leave relationships alone. They just don’t work by themselves. You have to pay attention to them. So we’ve caught it. We’re doing the right things. We’re doing what we need to do to put the resources back in. It’s cultural, it’s testing. It’s just so many things that we haven’t paid attention to. That in itself is not unusual in institutions and we’re renewing that.
Secretary James is doing a tremendous job — all our people on this. I’m personally involved in this. Deputy Secretary Work in fact is meeting this afternoon with our review panel because I’m going to be getting regular reviews on over 100 recommendations that came out of these that we’re implementing those recommendations.
ROSE: To read the speech that you made at the Reagan Library ought to concern anybody concerned about American defense policy because you lay out the challenges which you have in this interview whether it’s the Middle East, whether it’s ISIL, whether it’s China, whether it’s Russia, whether it’s Iran, whether it’s Africa, including, you know, pandemic crises and all the threats. And all of these things and you seem to be worried as to whether the lead that the United States has — and you quoted this — “We don’t like a fair fight.”
And you seem to be worried as to whether we’re leaving — you’re losing the capacity to have the influence that we have because the lead that we have may be threatened.
HAGEL: Well, that’s an accurate summary. I am worried about it. I am concerned about it. Chairman Dempsey is, the chiefs are — every leader of this institution. Now today, right now, as we sit here, we still are the most dominant, most powerful, most effective country, economy and military in the world. There’s no one close to us right now.
But as I also said in that speech, our ability, capability is something we can’t take for granted. We essentially kind of have taken it for granted since World War II because we’ve been willing to invest the resources in this because American people have felt every American leader that it’s important that the military not ever be our military in a fair fight. The technological edge that we have had, our people are better trained, better equipped, better motivated and better led than ever before — it is being threatened. It is being threatened, Charlie, and the American people got to know that.
I would fail my job if I wasn’t honest. I mean a lot of people may not agree with anything I say, but certainly some things I say. But I’ve never been criticized for not being forthright and honest, and the Congress needs to know this. They need to understand it. Our leaders have been very clear on this.
Now we’re not up on the roof with a white flag. It isn’t a crisis point. But this business is investment and the main responsibility for any leader, Charlie, you know, is to prepare your institution for the future. If you don’t do that, you fail. I don’t care how good you are, smart you are. Any part of your job, if you don’t prepare your institution, you fail. And that’s what we’re also doing as well as the day to day crises and the management and the leadership and the partnerships and all that goes into that.
ROSE: Let me talk a couple things. One, about issues having to do with the military family: the idea of the number of suicides from men and women returning; health care and veterans affairs; sexual assaults in the military. I mean these are — these are issues that have great concern to communities across this country as you well know. What’s being done?
HAGEL: Well, each one of those areas I have personally been involved in over the last almost two years. I have directed clearly new programs, new reviews. We have new things going on. They would report to me. I have weekly meetings, Charlie, on some of these on where are we. Not just directive. Anybody can send a directive out or anyone can order a review. But that’s part one.
The follow-up is what’s most important. What are we doing about these areas? And we have programs ongoing on every one of these. I get reports on it. I watch it, the deputy watches it. We all do. Health of the forces is critical a component to our national security as any one thing.
I just came back yesterday from a five day trip around the country — five different bases. One of those bases is Fort Campbell, Kentucky where the 101st airborne is — it has their headquarters now in Liberia. I met with wives and families of our 101st to talk with them about their loved ones.
ROSE: The government cares about you.
HAGEL: Cares about you and we make that as high a priority as there is. Each of those areas that you noted, yes are problems. We’re doing something about them. We’re going to fix them. I’m committed to that. The President of the United States has said it. But the people here have to be the ones to do it and they are doing it.
The military chiefs have made every one of these a priority. We’re putting resources into it. We’re putting new leadership into it. We’re putting metrics into it. We’re getting standards on how we’re being evaluated internally, not a press release, but internally. What we’re doing right, what we’re doing wrong and the kind of progress we’re making — every one of these areas that you mentioned.
ROSE: So what worries you the most? As you look as your job as Secretary of Defense, having talked of all the things that we have talked about. Your greatest concern is terrorism. Your greatest concern is relationships. Your greatest concern — is there any surprise that worries you the most? Something that’s not on the radar?
HAGEL: The only thing that’s not surprising in life are surprises. The only certainty is uncertainty. So none of that in a way surprises me but to answer your question directly on what bothers me the most, concerns me the most is, are we going to be — our leaders, all of us together — are we going to be able to get through this time which is a very defining time and a difficult time? I told the President not too long ago, I don’t know of a time that’s it’s been more difficult to be President of the United States or lead in this country than right now. Lincoln had a hard time 151 years ago when he…
ROSE: His bust sits over my right shoulder.
HAGEL: … yes, gave the magnificent Gettysburg Address, over 200 words, 10 sentences but the most clear direct meaning and talk. This is a difficult time but also not lose sight what I talked about earlier preparing the institution. That we don’t get so consumed in getting all these pieces and these challenges right and doing everything we can that we lose sight of the larger focus of where we’re going. America has always done a tremendous job. Our leaders have prepared us. Our population has supported them.
ROSE: Do you think Congress — you’ve sat in Congress in the United States Senate — are getting the message? Are they responding? I mean — are you simply hopeful?
HAGEL: Well I’m always hopeful it’s just easier to get up in the morning as you know. But I can’t run this place on hope. But, to your question, I think the Congress — their frame of reference now may well be different today in going into early next year than it was last year. I tell you if for no other reason the three new missions that we have — what we’re doing with ISIL, Ebola and Russian aggression. A year ago when I was testifying or it will be almost a year, early 2014, Chairman Dempsey and all the chiefs and I on our budget. All those were not — were not present at the time. Those three issues that I just mentioned that we’re now all working on and the Pentagon is right in the middle of all of them obviously — a year ago we did not have those. So if nothing else, Charlie, I think those dimensions are going to force all of our leaders to project a new urgency, a new larger frame of reference. Yes, I am hopeful I’m going to work with them. We’re all going to work with them. And I’m confident that we’ll get it fixed.
ROSE: Then there are these stories that the President wants to change his national security team. He’s looking at his last two years and maybe he wants to change his National Security Adviser. Maybe he wants to change his Secretary of Defense. Maybe he wants to change the elements. Is that true?
HAGEL: Well you’d have to ask the President. But…
ROSE: Do you concern yourself with it?
HAGEL: No. First of all, I serve at the pleasure of the President. I’m immensely grateful for the opportunity I’ve had the last two years to work every day for the country and for the men and women who serve this country. I don’t get up in the morning and worry about my job. It’s not unusual by the way, to change teams at different times.
ROSE: So you would expect him to change?
HAGEL: I didn’t say that. I didn’t say I expect him to change. What I’m saying is it wouldn’t be unusual to do that first of all historically. But second, I’ve got to stay focused on my job Charlie, and I do. And I am very fortunate that I have some of the best people in the world to work with and whatever the President decides, he’s the President, he makes those decisions.
ROSE: You succeeded Bob Gates…
ROSE: … who had the reputation of riding hard, loving the military but riding hard on the military. One criticism I hear is whether you’re being forceful enough with the military in order to bring about the changes that you feel are essential.
HAGEL: Well, I don’t think leadership is about being riding people hard. That’s not my style. I don’t think that’s leadership. That’s kind of a ranch hand boss approach. It works for some –that’s fine. It doesn’t work with me. I’ve never done it. I won’t do it.
You need cooperation and facilitation of other leaders. Now you’re the boss, you got to be direct, you have to be clear. But you listen, Charlie. These men and women have spent their entire careers in this business. And I think that’s one. Do I respect them for that? Do I listen carefully? Absolutely.
ROSE: But you want to change this place.
HAGEL: We are changing it.
ROSE: That’s the most important thing — a new outset.
HAGEL: It is. Much of our conversation here in the last few minutes is about the reforms and the changes we’re doing. I couldn’t do those alone. I mean I could write a directive. This has to come from within the institution. My partnership with Marty Dempsey I think is as close as any secretary and any chairman has ever been. Ask Dempsey — he may not agree with that, I don’t know. I’ve got a great relationship…
ROSE: Do you differ on anything…
HAGEL: On some things, sure.
HAGEL: I’m not going to get into what we disagree with or differ but here’s the bigger point. No Secretary of Defense can do this alone. This has to be with everybody. Now you lead, you direct but you listen. You’re careful. You want to know their ideas. The thing that we’re doing here weren’t done before I got here. It’s no reflection on Bob Gates or Leon Panetta. They have their own issues.
But every one of those things that you talked about are initiatives that I started — the nuclear reviews. What we’re doing. You go across the border — there are about 15 of these areas that I have started that we’re implementing here. I couldn’t do those alone. And cooperation with our leaders is critical.
ROSE: The most extraordinary thing is to hear the possibilities of technological innovation and you hear considerations of quantum physics and a whole range of new technology that have not even made their impact. Are you convinced you have the confidence of the president?
HAGEL: Well, I don’t think I would be here if I didn’t. But you’d have to ask him that. I mean I see him all the time.
ROSE: He would tell you if he didn’t.
HAGEL: Well, I would think so. Yes.
ROSE: What would you like your legacy to be?
HAGEL: I’m not thinking about that. And I don’t worry about it. Actually I have always just done every job the best I could, as honestly as I could, as straightforwardly as I could and then I’ll left the rest all sort it out.
ROSE: Mr. Secretary thank you.
HAGEL: Thank you.
ROSE: A pleasure to be here.
HAGEL: Yes. Good to see you again, Charlie.”