Department of Defense Press Briefing by Secretary Hagel, Feb. 7, 2014

Washington, DC—(ENEWSPF)—February 7, 2014.

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE CHUCK HAGEL:  Good afternoon.  Thanks for giving me some time this afternoon.  I wanted to announce that, as of about five minutes ago, the president announced that he’s nominating Robert Work to serve as the next deputy secretary of defense.

Bob, who most of you know, most of you have worked with when he was undersecretary of the Navy, is a highly respected and nationally recognized strategic thinker, practitioner, and expert on national security, as well as budgeting, technology, military affairs.  A retired Marine Corps officer, he’s an admired and tested leader, having until recently served, as you know, as the undersecretary of the Navy.  Those responsibilities included the day-to-day management of the Department of the Navy.

He’s also held leadership positions with important defense policy think-tanks, including his current position as CEO for the Center for a New American Security.  Bob’s distinguished career of public service, his ability, and his experience and knowledge of DOD make him uniquely qualified for this position.  And if confirmed, he will bring to the deputy’s role the essential qualities required to help lead our national defense enterprise at a very, very challenging time.  

The president and I both appreciate Bob’s willingness to serve his country once again and return to the Department of Defense.  I’m looking forward to Bob getting here and working closely with him.  We together and the team here intend to continue to strengthen this department, our military, and our national security.  

As you also know, Christine Fox has been serving these past few months as the acting [deputy] secretary of defense.  This department and I have greatly benefited from her wise counsel, her vast knowledge and experience, and the innovative thinking as we have moved forward with shaping DOD’s future spending plans.  

And I want to thank Christine.  I want to thank her for her willingness to stay on in this position until Bob is confirmed by the U.S. Senate.  

I also want to mention three other important presidential nominees.  Christine Wormuth, who was nominated to serve as our next undersecretary of defense for policy.  Most of you know Christine, work with her.  Brian McKeon, nominated to serve as the principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, and most of you know Brian, because you’ve either worked with him at the White House or on Capitol Hill.  And Mike McCord, who you all know, nominated to serve as DOD’s next comptroller.  

All of these very experienced and highly regarded and capable individuals will bring tremendous expertise and leadership to these positions.  Like Bob Work, they are exceptional professionals.  These individuals are far — four of the most experienced national security professionals that DOD has had in these positions at any one time.  They bring a depth of experience and knowledge and expertise that is as impressive as we’ve seen here at DOD.  And I am grateful that they have agreed to serve in these positions.  And I’m proud to serve with them.  

In times of great change and challenge, our country must have the right kind of people in trusted positions of leadership.  I appreciate the Senate Armed Services Committee’s prompt action to schedule hearings for these nominees all this month.  If these nominees are confirmed, and if the Senate acts on other senior department nominees now before it, then most of the Senate-confirmed Pentagon jobs will be filled.  

I also have one additional personnel announcement to make regarding one of our combatant commanders.  Today, the president nominated Air Force General Paul Selva to serve as commander of U.S. Transportation Command.  General Selva currently leads Air Mobility Command, and he has commanded at the squadron, group, wing, and headquarters levels.  If confirmed, he will be an outstanding successor to General Fraser, who’s been an exemplary, effective TRANSCOM commander, and we will miss him, and we appreciate his tremendous service to this country.  

I have high expectations for all these leaders.  DOD and our country will rely on them, and they’ll rely on their integrity and their leadership.  I know this country is grateful to these men and women, and I know our country is grateful for all the men and women who serve our nation with honor and diligence.  And I’m proud of them.  The president is proud of them.  And we’re proud of their families.  And I’m proud to serve with them.  They’ve earned the respect and the admiration of the American people and of our allies and partners all over the world.  

But some of our people are falling short of these high standards and expectations.  Ethics and character are absolute values that we cannot take for granted.  They must be constantly reinforced.  It is the responsibility of all of us — all of us who ask for the trust and confidence of the American people — to ensure these values are imbued in all our people and we all live up to them.  

I met this week with service secretaries, Chairman Dempsey, and the Joint Chiefs.  We addressed this problem.  We’re going to continue to address it, and we’re going to fix it.  

Competence and character are not mutually exclusive.  They are woven together.  They must be.  And an uncompromising culture of accountability must exist at every level of command.  That must be practiced and emphasized by leadership at every level.  

Like in all institutions, it starts at the top.  Ethics and character are the foundation of an institution and a society.  They must be constantly emphasized at every level of command, in training, curriculum, and all phases of DOD in both the officer and the enlisted corps, top to bottom.  

Over the next few weeks, Chairman Dempsey and I will be announcing actions that all of our services are taking to deal with this problem.  I will assign to my senior staff a general officer who will report directly to me on issues related to military ethics, character, and leadership, and work directly with the service secretaries and the service chiefs.  This officer will coordinate the actions of our services on this issue, work every day with all of our services, and we will meet weekly so I can receive reports from DOD’s senior leadership, including both officer and enlisted leadership, on the progress we’re making.  This will be an absolute top priority for the service secretaries, the service chiefs, General Dempsey, and me.  

Thank you, and I’d be glad to take your questions.  Lita?

Q:  Mr. Secretary, just a quick follow-up on what — on what you just said about the ethics and then a question.  Do you think that all this time at war is sort of at one of the root causes of some of this increased bad behavior?  Or was it just overlooked, I guess, during the war and is now — things are just coming to light that were happening all along?

But my second — my question on Afghanistan.  You met with your top leaders from Afghanistan this week.  Do you see a specific drawdown of troops for the summer?  What goals do you think you want to get to for the number of troops in Afghanistan over the summer?  And is it sort of a fait accompli at this point that you think there will be no BSA, at least before the election?

SEC. HAGEL:  Regarding your first question, I don’t think there is one simple answer to the issue of ethics, values, a lapse in some of those areas that we — we do know about.  That’s why we’re taking a hard look at this.  

I think we need to find out, is there a deep, wide problem?  If there is, then what’s the scope of that problem?  How did this occur?  Was it a constant focus of 12 years on two long land wars, taking our emphasis off some of these other areas?  I don’t know.  We intend to find out.  This is an inter-service issue.  This is an issue that cuts across all lines and all commands.  And that’s why I am putting this as a number-one priority for this institution.  

General Dempsey feels exactly the same way.  Our leaders and our service secretaries, our chiefs feel the same way.  And that’s what we will do.  But I don’t think it’s as simple as just one thing or two things.  But we intend to find out.  

On Afghanistan, as you noted, we met with the president this week, a very good first assessment the president received on where we are, on retrograde and all the other dimensions of what’s going on in Afghanistan.  It was an honest exchange between his commanders and himself about the future.  

You know our position has not changed, in that we have continued to encourage President Karzai to sign the BSA [bilateral security agreement], incidentally, a document that he negotiated in its finality and agreed to, a document that was overwhelmingly supported by the loya jirga that he brought together, a document, as far as we can tell, from every measurement of the people of Afghanistan, is supported by the people of Afghanistan.  

So we continue to hope and believe that that will be signed.  We will continue to plan and work with our NATO and ISAF commanders for a post-2014 mission.  You know that we’ve identified that as train, assist, advise, and counterterrorism.  I’ll be going to Brussels, as you all know, in two or three weeks, which obviously this will be on the agenda.  


Q:  Mr. Secretary, if we could stay in Afghanistan for a second, we were told by General Milley, you know, there are 385,000 Afghan troops and police now, and this fighting season they did quite well in the lead.  The Taliban gained no ground.

And I know the president, in his State of the Union, said if the BSA is signed, there could be U.S. troops there after 2014.  I wonder if you could explain to us, given all — how well the Afghans are doing, why does there have to be any troops, U.S. troops in Afghanistan after 2014?  Most Americans are against this.  Why can’t all U.S. troops just leave at the end of the year?  

SEC. HAGEL:  Well, again, let’s examine the mission.  The president has stated very clearly — and we are proceeding on this, as you know — first, the combat mission of our role in Afghanistan has changed.  That lead combat mission has been turned over to the Afghanistans [Afghans].

Again, a post-2014 presence of the United States and our ISAF partners would be about continuing to train, assist and advise — we do that all over of the world with partners and allies — as well as continue our counterterrorism efforts, which I think most everyone supports, it’s — it’s clearly in our interest.  

So the mission would change, as — as it is changing now dramatically, because that mission would be changing and would be different, you don’t need obviously near as many troops, but you need some.  You need force protection.  You need support, train, assist, advise…


Q:  What would happen to that country if — if there were no U.S. troops going into 2015, do you think?  

SEC. HAGEL:  Well, I’m not going to speculate, except to say — and as you noted — the Afghan army has performed pretty well the last two years, imperfect, problems, still needs help.  They are still in the process of institution-building.  

Remember, 12 years ago, there weren’t any institutions at all in Afghanistan.  And a continuation of investing and helping them invest in their own future, in their own institutions, to give them the capability, which we’re doing all over the world, in capacity-building with partners and allies, different, different places.  

So I don’t think it’s too far out of the mission of what we’ve been trying to do.  But the point being, if it would work where we’re invited in by the Afghan people, and if that BSA is signed, as the president has made clear, then I think there is a very appropriate role to continue to help the Afghan people build their own institutions of self-government, self-defense, the capabilities that they have already made tremendous progress on.  

Q:  But, if you’re going to continue a counterterrorism mission, you’re going to need drone bases.  With the possibility of no U.S. troops staying after 2014 and the lease on Manas expiring in the middle of this summer, where in the region would you base your drone program, if those come to pass?  Or are you considering halting drone strikes on Pakistan?  

SEC. HAGEL:  Well, as you all know, I don’t get into the specifics of what our plans are on intelligence and drone strikes and other issues like that, but I would say this, that we are constantly assessing threats to the United States and our interests all over the world with partners, and we have threats coming from different parts of the world, and we address those threats.  So you’re constantly assessing your assets and what’s required.  And we are planning, as I said, for a post-2014 role in Afghanistan.  


Q:  I’m sorry, I didn’t know…

SEC. HAGEL:  Go ahead, if you want.  


Q:  Yes.  But would you consider, if you don’t have an option of a drone base in Afghanistan, if you don’t have troops allowed to stay, you don’t have a BSA, would you consider basing drones in India, for instance?  

SEC. HAGEL:  Well, we have to consider everything, as we are.  That’s my point about — you’re constantly updating and changing and looking at possibilities, strategic interests, where you posture those assets, where the threats are most significant, where do you have allies that are willing to work with you, capacity-building of allies.  You’re in a constant review process on all those things.  

And so if that would be the case, we — we would have to be — and we are looking at different options for everything.  You have to do that.  That’s not anything unique to Afghanistan.  


Q:  I want to take you back to ethics.  You called it the number-one priority, which is I think…


SEC. HAGEL:  I said a number-one priority.  A high priority, I think is what I said.  

Q:  My apologies.  

SEC. HAGEL:  We have a lot of priorities.

Q:  In regard to just the general officers, and generals and admirals that serve here, you have cases of drinking on the job, gambling, assault, multiple girlfriends.  You’ve been in the military.  How hard is it for these people, small number though it may be, how hard is it to do the right thing?  

And what are your concerns that, as the enlisted ranks look at this and look at scandals in their own ranks, people are going to be unsettled, lose confidence?  What should the American people think when they hear you speaking about concerns whether the U.S. military has moral courage and is ethical?  It sounds pretty serious.  

SEC. HAGEL:  Well, I didn’t say I don’t believe — a question whether the U.S. military has moral courage or ethical — in fact, if you recall what I said in my statement, I complimented most all the people in this institution, because they do have integrity and they live by that and character and courage.  There are some where we have some problems.  We know that.  

But, you know, there’s only one way to deal with an issue, a problem, is you take it on.  You don’t apologize for it.  You don’t hide it.  You don’t run the other way.  You say it straight up.  

I don’t know of an institution in the world that does that better than this institution.  It is this Department of Defense that puts the problems up in front with the press — when we find we’ve got a problem somewhere, we open it up.  We let you know about it.  We know the American people need to know about it, the Congress.  So we’re not afraid of that.  

But the issue is then, how do you fix it?  What do you do about it?  And as I said, I don’t know all of the depth or the width of this.  We know we’ve got issues.  You all report on it.  We’re not trying to back away from that.  

So let’s go — let’s go figure it out, whether it’s sexual assault or what it is, but we are going to fix it.  And we’re going to be honest about it and transparent about it.  And I give this institution tremendous credit in that.  

And we will get to whatever we need to get to, to assure as much as we can — you said it, I used it in my language — trust and confidence, complete trust and confidence that the American people have in — in this institution.  I think most people have that today.  But as I’ve said — and you heard me say this often — there’s no margin of error in a lot of this.  And if you — if you choose this profession, there’s an expectation that goes with this expectation and a standard.  But that’s your choice, but you must live with that expectation and standard.  


Q:  I’m going to ask you a budget question, since you brought it up a couple times in Mr. Work’s qualifications.  As you prepare the — and roll out the 2015 budget, you have to cut about $41 billion from the level the Pentagon planned for last year for 2015 and what the bipartisan budget agreement cap calls for.  Roughly, are you going into the area of cutting capability, cutting capacity — those two baskets from the SCMR that you discussed back in July?

SEC. HAGEL:  Yeah, well, I think you’ve all heard me address this in some detail, and I’ll be addressing it in more detail here as we get closer to budget time.  

You have to come at all these things, not unlike the conversation we just had here on ethics and standards, from a — from a holistic point of view.  Certainly, you do your budget.  You also heard me talk about readiness, modernization, capability.  Those are priorities that we focus on.  So as you assess your resources and you match your resources to mission, those are three priorities that always must be in front of everything else.  

Now, will there be cuts across the board?  Of course there will.  You can’t do it any other way.  Are there going to be adjustments across the board?  Of course.  But you must preserve readiness and modernization and — and the capability and the capacity in order to do the job of protecting this country within the framework of the resources you have.  We’ll do that.  I think the plan that we lay out in — in the budget, the narrative that goes with those numbers, do that.  

And so without getting into the specifics of the numbers or the projects or what is in that, I think I would just, once again, emphasize that it is a holistic approach.  And then you have to also not think just about fiscal year 2015, that budget that we’ll be presenting, but, as you know, we do a FYDP, five-year plan and on out 10 years.  

You think about the sustainability of a commitment to large weapons systems, whether they’re ships or planes or anything else.  Can you sustain those and all that goes with that?  So it’s an immense amount of thinking, of strategic planning within the scope of — of your resources.  

I’m satisfied that we have done that effectively.  I think it’s a — it’s a very good plan.  I think it’s an effective plan.  I look forward to presenting it to the Congress after the president rolls his budget out on March 4th.  And I look very much forward to not just explaining it, but going into some detail on why we think this makes sense.  We’re going to need the Congress as our partner on this, too. 

Q:  (OFF-MIC) clearly where the $41 billion — where it’s coming from, what baskets, because you seem to suggest it’s going to come across all equal portions of the operations and maintenance, force structure, and modernization.  

SEC. HAGEL:  Well, Tony, you don’t take $41 billion out of one basket.  That’s my point.  You assess the strategic interest and guidance and the mission to defend your country, what it’s going to take to do that, and then you start working through that.  

And so you examine — you mentioned the SCMR [Strategic Choices and Management Review].  That’s one of the reasons I asked to do the SCMR, so that we have an inventory of, what do we have?  What are our resources?  What are we obligated for?  And so you assess every weapons system.  You assess every force posture.  You assess every component of this institution.  And then you guide that along the path of, what are your strategic interests and how you fulfill those?

So it isn’t a simple take $41 billion out of this pocket or — it’s a balancing.  I mean, that is the word, balance.  You have to balance your budget, not just ledger-wise, but it’s got to be balanced in the interests of our country to defend this country.  


Q:  Getting back to your senior ethics officer that you’re appointing, what can you tell us about that person, their rank or — or name?  

And also, on Afghanistan just for a moment, I know that you said that the United States wants an agreement as soon as possible, but was there a consensus or a feeling at the meeting with the president that a meeting — you may go to Brussels without one, without a BSA, and that you may be able to wait for the election, you’ll probably wait for the election to pass without a BSA?  Was there an acceptance of that?  

SEC. HAGEL:  Well, we are dealing with the world we’re dealing with.  And so, with that in mind, you plan, you think through.  One of the reasons the president asked to have his commanders in was to talk through this face-to-face.  He spent a huge amount of time on this.  Every time General Dempsey and I talk to him on Tuesday, we talk about this.  We talk about it with him on other occasions.  

He’s been putting a lot of his own time into this, thinking it through, our commanders have.  As you all know, General Dempsey and I do a SVTC [secure video teleconference] with General Dunford and General Austin once a week, sometimes two and three times a week.  

So we’re assessing all of this.  As to going into NATO ministerial with or without a signed BSA, I don’t know what we’ll have, what we won’t have.  But we’ve still got to plan for the future, make decisions.  Those decisions are based on all of the factors that you’re aware of, commitments, and that planning is not easy.  It takes time.  

Every one of our NATO partners, ISAF partners — you all know this — I listened to a number of them when I was in Munich last week, where I met with them — many of them I met with here at the Pentagon the last two months — have said the same thing.  We have parliaments; we have budgets; we have planning.  We just can’t wait here on an indefinite basis as to what we’re going to do, either.  So all these factors are part of it.  We have to plan for all possibilities here.  

And you had a…


SEC. HAGEL:  Ethics officer — first, I don’t have a name to give you.  I will give you that name shortly.  We’re not going to let this go very long.  This’ll be very soon.  

As I said in my remarks, it will be a general officer.  It will be a very senior level.  It will be an individual who is experienced in not just this building, but I want someone who understands the outside, who understands the pressures of combat, the pressures of curriculums and testing, and who has a good, well-rounded background in command.  

And we have some ideas, but I’ll make that decision shortly, because we have another meeting this week coming up.  And as I’ve already said, we’re going to have weekly meetings.  This position will be in place very soon, and I’ll let you know.  

REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY:  Thanks, everybody.  Appreciate it.  Thank you very much.

SEC. HAGEL:  Thank you.