Senator Hagel the Realist and Perhaps the next Henry Kissinger

President Obama’s pick for the Secretary of Defense is a lot like President Nixon’s use of Henry Kissinger. Senator Chuck Hagel is supposedly a realist. President Obama is an idealist in the highest regard. However, President Obama thinks that the defense department will be best run through the lens of a realist. Realism alone is a lame term because it means so many different things. Many scholars differ in what a realist is. Hans Morgenthau was the founder of the classical realist theory. The Doctrine of Containment was created by George F. Kennan it enhanced the amoral classical realist theory and was used by every President during the Cold War.

A reader who is reading a column from anyone should first see if the term realist is defined by the writer. The term realism needs to be broken down into the two major theories and those are offensive and defensive neo-realism. Kenneth N. Waltz wrote Theory of International Politics which explained his theory of defensive realism and how it differs from the other theories of international relations at the time of the book in 1979. Waltz argued that a bi-polar world like the world that existed during the Cold War produced the greatest amount of peace and stability.

Waltz felt that a multi-polar world was less stable because each nation must be aware of what the other nations are doing. Waltz prided himself in stating that his theory “explained the most with the least amount of variables.” One thing Waltz believed; “Systems are either maintained or transformed” and that is very important concept at the regional level like the Middle East. However, it should be added that Kenneth Waltz’s theory does not argue from the regional level.

In this article the Middle Eastern region is at the center of Senator Chuck Hagel’s problems in regards to becoming the Secretary of Defense. Waltz believed that it was in the best interests of each nation-state within the system to maintain the status quo. This is what explains the stability of the world system regarding nation-states and war. Senator Chuck Hagel in this writers view is a defensive realist who hopes to avoid war and wishes to maintain a peaceful status quo.

Every president of the United States since the fall of the Soviet Union has been an offensive realist. John J. Mearsheimer wrote the book The Tragedy of Great Power Politics. Mearsheimer uses history to outline how nation-states act in an offensive manner whenever they believe that it is in their best interest to go to war. When the Cold War ended in 1989 the United States became a Uni-polar power within the world’s structural systemic formation. The first President Bush went to war with Panama. President Clinton, used the United States in offensive manners around the world like in Kosovo and Somalia, but this is irrelevant outside of the needs of this paragraph.

It was after the 9/11 attacks that President Bush created his Preemptive Strike Doctrine that would allow the United States to hit terrorist targets before they acted out in a terrorist manner. Hence, what is seen is a new offensive position that America was going to follow in its war against terrorism. President Obama uses drone strikes under the Preemptive Strike Doctrine. With the above definitions explained and how they operate let’s move on.

Senator Chuck Hagel is a defensive neo- realist that will try to find peaceful solutions to the problems in Egypt, Syria, and Iran to name a few of the problems that America will face in President Obama’s second term. President Obama in this writer’s opinion wants the best of both worlds. President Obama would like to continue to act in an offensive manner. However, after his debacle in Egypt the President hopes to change course in the Middle East. President Obama will use Senator Hagel as his version of a Henry Kissinger.     

 Hans Morgenthau was a close friend to Henry Kissinger. Henry Kissinger was a Jew whose family fled Germany to escape Adolf Hitler’s reign of terror. Henry Alfred Kissinger was educated at Harvard University for his MA and PhD. Henry Kissinger wanted to get into politics so he backed Nelson Rockefeller in his failed attempts to win the Republican nomination for president. Henry Kissinger like Morgenthau worked off of Machiavelli’sThe Prince and hence the “Politics of Reality” which is German for “Realpolitik.”

Dr. Henry Kissinger received his first break in politics by President Richard Nixon who made him a national security advisor in 1969. This was at the height of the Vietnam War and it was Henry Kissinger who ushered in the Paris Peace Accords which he won the Noble Peace Prize for in 1973. Dr. Kissinger made secret trips to China and it was President Nixon who first began talks with communist China.

Senator Chuck Hagel a two term United States Senator worked on the Council for Foreign Relations. Senator Hagel has an 84 percent voting record with the American Conservative Union. Senator Hagel was outspoken about the Iraq War and was very critical of President Bush after 9/11. Senator Hagel voted for the Patriot Act and against No Child Left Behind; a lot of the Senators votes seemed contrary to the rest of his party after the Iraq War began.

 It seems that the leaders of Israel are not happy with the nomination of Senator Hagel and his passed views on Israel. Senator Hagel said: “He [Hagel] has also spoken offensively and ignorantly of our most steadfast democratic ally in the region—Israel.” Senator Hagel seems to have the same philosophy on foreign policy as President Obama in regards to Israel. Recently Senator Hagel has advocated dialogue and engagement with both Syria and Iran. Senator Hagel is like President Obama in his thinking about explaining how it is America’s fault for our problems in the Middle East. How could this be a Middle Eastern policy without making America look pathetic around the world?

The problem that Senator Hagel has with the Republican Senate is his thinking about the Middle East and Israel. The Neoconservatives or the war party within the Republican Party want to act in an offensive realist format within the Middle Eastern theater. President Obama believed his nomination of Senator Hagel would never be as difficult as it is turning out to be. The idea of America in the defensive role of geopolitics makes the Neocons sick. America has not taken a defensive realist stance since the end of the Cold War.

President Obama has high hopes for his new policy concerning the Middle East. If Senator Hagel can help develop a peaceful Middle East that would be a foreign policy legacy for President Obama. President Obama will be the first President to deal peacefully with the Middle East while still acting in an offensive manner concerning the “War on Terror.”  President Obama is an idealist and probably believes that he can accomplish what is discussed above. However, if push comes to shove war will be the American option and once again Mearsheimer and his theory of Offensive Realism will prevail.

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  1. says

    Kissinger is no role model. Start with his role in endorsing Indonesia’s invasion of East Timor which directly resulted as many as 200,000 deaths. Look at his policies in Vietnam, Angola, Cyprus, Bangladesh, Chile, etc . I guess you can’t get any realer than that rising body count.

  2. jamesluko says

    although Kissinger was the preeminent machevalian of our time, and for some years I worked in proximty to his sidekick, Helmut Sonnenfeld, I could hardly imagine mentioning a pea-brain such as Hagel alongside Kissinger.

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