Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel's proposed military cuts may have some rationale behind them, but they also entail a great deal of risk, says Gen. Michael Hayden, the former head of both the National Security Agency and the CIA.
"The first instinct I had was, well, I'm glad I'm not in government anymore because when you have to do these kinds of things, nothing is easy and, boy, this is almost like 'Sophie's Choice' sometimes when you begin to cut weapons systems," he told Newsmax TV's John Bachman on "America's Forum."
"But there's a clear logic. Now, we can disagree with the logic, but there's a clear logic behind these kinds of cuts. We are going for high-tech, short duration kinds of conflicts, and we are not building a force that will allow us to do long-term, ground-based stability operations. That's why the Army's smaller, that's why the A-10 is being cut. That's probably good in terms of those are the kinds of wars we want to fight," he said.
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"On the other hand, the enemy gets a vote, and occasionally you're forced into wars of the type you don't want to fight, and so there's a certain amount of risk involved here."
The retired four-star general, who was director of the NSA from 1999 to 2005 and director of the CIA from 2006 to 2009, also said America's adversaries around the globe could view the move as a sign of weakness.
"If this were independent, if this were taking place in the context of a broader, more robust kind of American diplomatic and other engagements in Syria and other places, this would be viewed more along the lines of, well, the Americans had to make tough choices.
"But now that it's part of this whole swirl of America ... appearing not to be present for duty in a lot of the world's trouble spots, this will add to this overall impression of an American ... readjustment of its national security policy," Hayden said.
As for the reported arms deal reached between Iraq and Iran, Hayden, who is currently a principal at the Chertoff Group, a security consultancy co-founded by former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, warned that it could foreshadow a troubling scenario in the Middle East.
"You can wave your hand in an arc from Iran through Iraq through Syria, where Iran's client Bashar al-Assad is doing quite well, and then into Lebanon, where Hezbollah, another client, is actually in the ascendancy. So what you see here is a Shia arc and this latest arms deal, and I have to caveat it — if true — this latest arms deal is just going to cement the view that that's exactly what's going on here, and that is going to really upset the Sunni states in the neighborhood of Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf states," he said.
Asked if he thinks the deal is an intentional slap in the face for Secretary of State John Kerry, Hayden responded, "Yeah, it looks like as if the deal is being made public now, or at least publicly available now, that it may have been cut late last fall. So I don't know that it's direct cause and effect, but that said, it does kind of put another point on the paper with regard to American policy toward Iraq post-war."
He continued, "Let me just say my favorite phrase here. It turns out that the right number of residual American forces in Iraq wasn't zero, and imagine a situation here now if we'd have kept 5,000 or 7,000 troops there for counterterrorism purposes."
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