America must not "dictate" to world, new defense chief says

Wed Feb 27, 2013 12:59pm EST
 

By Phil Stewart

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Decorated Vietnam veteran Chuck Hagel was sworn in as U.S. defense secretary on Wednesday after a bruising Senate confirmation battle, and promised to renew old U.S. alliances and forge new ones without attempting to "dictate" to the world.

Addressing Pentagon employees shortly after a small, closed-door swearing-in ceremony, Hagel spoke optimistically, if vaguely, about global challenges ahead and the importance of American leadership abroad.

"We can't dictate to the world. But we must engage the world. We must lead with our allies," Hagel said in what appeared to be unscripted remarks.

"No nation, as great as America is, can do any of this alone."

He also plainly acknowledged the prospect of looming automatic budget cuts, known as the sequester, saying flatly: "That's a reality. We need to figure this out. You are doing that."

"We need to deal with this reality," he added, as hopes dim in Washington that Congress might act in time to forestall $46 billion in Pentagon cuts, due to kick in on March 1.

Hagel, a former two-term Republican U.S. senator from Nebraska, broke from his party during the administration of George W. Bush to become a fierce critic of the Iraq war.

Many Republicans opposed to Hagel's nomination scorned him over Iraq and raised questions about whether he was sufficiently supportive of Israel, tough enough on Iran or truly committed to maintaining a robust nuclear deterrent.   Continued...

 
Former U.S. Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE) (C) smiles as he and his wife Lilibet (L) arrive for his swearing-in and his first day as Secretary of Defense at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, February 27, 2013. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst