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

Wed Feb 27, 2013 3:03pm EST
 
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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, promising 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."

"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.

In a separate, written message to Pentagon employees, many of whom are set to be put on unpaid leave this year, Hagel noted his concerns on the impact of the cuts on personnel and military readiness.

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.   Continued...

 
U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel speaks to service members and civilian employees on his first day in his new post after being sworn in, at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, February 27, 2013. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst