In two separate statements this week, U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, may have contradicted himself. On May 6, at an event in Chicago, he gave a warning about embracing isolationism due to America’s increasing war fatigue. Hagel stated that remaining involved in the world does not equate with charity work. Instead, it is a matter of being realistic in regard to national interests.
Though he recognizes the American public’s resistance to additional involvement in worldwide issues, the Defense Secretary pointed out that their could be a tremendous cost to pulling away from commitments of a foreign nature. He reminded his audience that, as history has shown, pulling back in the present only creates a need for further engagement in the future. He added that this is unacceptable because of the potential for greater loss of life, economy and control.
Hagel went on to say that the true beneficiaries of this nation’s engagement and leadership throughout the world are Americans. What is seen as prosperity on an unprecedented level can be at least partly accredited to America’s military might and diplomatic skills. In fact, he said that pulling away is not even an option. With 400,000 troops in almost 100 countries, it seems clear that we are far from any isolationist ideal.
In March, NBC News and the Wall Street Journal conducted a poll to gauge how Americans are feeling about the nation’s worldwide involvement. 47 percent responded that they would like to see the U.S. decrease activity in global struggles, while almost 50 percent claimed that they desire leadership that will face our enemies overseas.
In light of his comments on Tuesday, Hagel’s statements today on This Week seem to be a direct contradiction. Regarding the over 200 young girls kidnapped from their dormitory in April in Nigeria, the Defense Secretary said that the U.S. has no intention of sending troops to aid in their recovery. The perpetrators, an Islamic group with extremist tendencies, call themselves Boko Haram. Roughly translated, the name means, “western education is forbidden.”
These kidnappings are seen by many as a direct slap-in-the-face and could be deemed as a threat to national interests overseas. They feel that this is a perfect opportunity to prove what he said earlier this week is true. What better opportunity to show our global compassion and involvement than to help rescue hundreds of innocent and helpless young women?
Washington did send some military advisers who were part of international attempts to assist the Nigerian government. However, the U.S. could, and many feel should, do more. On Saturday, Hagel was recorded saying that the task would not be an easy one in a country as immense as Nigeria, particularly since Boko Haram has been threatening to sell the young women. Hagel also said that the U.S. was going to do everything possible to support Nigeria in their efforts. Apparently, that does not include military force.
The Defense Secretary makes some valid points about isolationism and the inherent backlash from choosing such a stance. Perhaps there is no potential fallout from not helping those kidnapped girls. Maybe they do not represent enough of a national interest. However, the outrage felt around the globe is tremendous. The decision must have been carefully calculated. Chuck Hagel may have contradicted himself this week, but he also may have an out.
Opinion by Stacy Lamy