Studio guest Andrei Fyodorov, former Deputy Foreign Minister of Russia, Director of the Center for Political Research Foundation in Moscow, Russia, Oleg Kulakov, visiting research fellow at NATO Defense College in Rome in 2005-2006, and Alexander Konovalov, President of the Institute of Strategic Assessment, Russia, shared their opinions with Radio Sputnik.
For you, was this a surprise decision and why do you think he took it?
Andrei Fyodorov: It was not a big surprise, but it was partly a surprise. From the very first days in the office Chuck was a black sheep in the family, not only by his Republican Party membership, but by the conception. He was thinking not about ending the wars, he was thinking about a new strategy for the US. And a lot of people are forgetting that during the last two years under Chuck there were new arms introduced, there was the development of the antimissile shield etc. So, he never stopped the preparation for the war in fact.
The problem is that he had too much burden on his shoulders – Afghanistan, Syria and the biggest failure for him was, of course, the IS. The IS appeared as a new force which should not have appeared, because the idea of the whole operation in Iraq and Syria was to clean up this area from the Islamic extremists. And it is Chuck who is responsible for this failure.
And he is understanding quite well the issue of Afghanistan. In my personal point of view next spring the Taliban will come back to power, because the internal situation there is totally dramatic. And Chuck Hagel, I think, understands quite well that part of the US troops which will remain in Afghanistan will simply be the hostages of the Taliban. It will be biggest military failure of the US with possibly thousands of the US soldiers locked in Afghanistan.
Concerning the Russian-American relations, under Chuck the contacts between our Ministry of Defense and the US Ministry of Defense failed. There were no consultations, there was no exchange of opinions. It was his personal fault, because he was considering Russia not as a friend, but as an enemy. Last year he wrote a memo to Obama citing that Russia’s military growth is a new danger we are not capable to challenge at this time. All the European plans for the antiballistic missile shield for Europe were developed under him and next spring it will be enforced. So, in fact, Chuck created the ground for a new confrontation between Russia and the US.
What do you think was behind Chuck Hagel’s resignation?
Alexander Konovalov: To my mind the main reason of Hagel’s resignation is linked to the fact that Mr. Obama and the Democrats lost control over the Senate and this is the preparation for a new situation with the Congress.
Do you think he might return to politics at all, to any position after Obama steps down in the next election?
Alexander Konovalov: The appointment of Mr. Hagel was very difficult, because he, to the extent of my memory, is the only Republican in Obama’s Cabinet. And he was on the hearing in the Senate before the appointment, and this hearing lasted, with the small intervals, for more than 9 hours. He was asked a lot of questions. In the speech after the declaration of his resignation Mr. Obama told that they continue to be friends and he was very happy to have such an honourable gentleman in his government.
But don’t you have a feeling that his resignation looked like a personal drama? There was a feeling that President Obama was not taking into consideration to the extent enough the opinion of the military.
Alexander Konovalov: No. First of all, the Defense Minister is not a policy maker in the US and the Minister of Defense is not a military person, he is a civilian one. His skills are linked mainly to management. Maybe the greatest Minister of Defense of the US Robert McNamara, before that he was the president of a big firm. And now, the rumors about the possible candidates to substitute Mr. Hagel are among the politicians, scientists and managers. And I don’t think that political disagreements play too big role in the relations between a president and his minister of defense.
What can be the military doctrine of the US under the successor of Mr. Hagel?
Alexander Konovalov: It is very difficult to forecast, having in mind the economic situation and having in mind that Mr. Obama two years ago declared the new American military strategy. He promised not to be engaged in big conflicts on the ground far away from the American shores. And now he is facing the problem how to deal the IS terrorist organization without using the ground forces. An airstrike may be a good instrument to prevent a big catastrophe from happening immediately, but it is not enough to win.
And the successor of Mr. Hagel, to my mind, will continue all the American programs in the antiballistic missile area, in the new types of conventional weapons, like hypersonic high-precision carriers, but I don’t expect too big changes in the American strategy. The only thing I probably don’t know the precise answer to is how to deal with the IS terrorist organization, without the use of ground forces. But Obama is definitely not going to send the American soldiers in big quantities far away from the motherland.
Andrei Fyodorov: I foresee three areas for the US military in the future. First of all, Asia-Pacific where there is a growing tension and there are new problems in the relationship with China. Second, I fully agree, it is the ME and the IS. And I fully agree with Mr. Konovalov that you cannot win without having troops on the ground. And the third area is Europe where, frankly speaking, the anti-Russian missile construction will be enforced.
What do you make out of the resignation of Chuck Hagel?
Oleg Kulakov: It occurs to me that today, when we are witnessing a clear confrontation between Russia and the US, we can witness a potential for Cold War. In this situation both sides should reconsider their approach to their future activities and they need a new command to do that.