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While there are those who describe the mounting national debt and the dysfunctional politics as the United States' biggest national security threat, what I heard in Washington told a totally different story: That the biggest potential threats are defense cuts and imminent and looming threats from all parts of the world.
That is probably why days before US President Barack Obama announced former Republican senator Chuck Hagel would be his new defense secretary, his opponents had already gone on the offensive vowing to block Hagel's confirmation.
Hagel's "crimes" are, according to his critics, his lack of loyalty toward Israel, lack of toughness on Iran, lack of resolve to use force, and an unwillingness to call some Muslim organizations terrorists.
He has voiced misgivings about the pro-Israel influence on foreign policy, which has been seen by some, such as Senator John Cornyn of Texas, as an attack on those "who view that relationship as a special relationship, one that's important to our national security and stability in the region".
And when it comes to Iran, Hamas or Hezbollah, US politicians can only become popular by sounding tough and nasty, regardless of how infeasible and ridiculous that might be.
However, I believe that there is a conspiracy behind all these attacks on Hagel. It is a conspiracy plotted by the defense industry, as Hagel's criticism of excessive defense spending would be unfavorable for the industry, despite the record exports that have been boosted by arms sales to Asia.
On Monday, after a talk at the Brookings Institution by Under Secretary of Defense Robert Hale, a defense industry representative publicly expressed his sadness over the uncertainty produced by the shrinking defense budget, which is still twice as big as the peak spending during Cold War and equal to the next top 10 spending nations combined.
Hale, too, expressed his anxiety over the defense cuts, as did some other speakers such as former deputy defense secretary Paul Wolfwitz.
China is frequently called the biggest threat to the US. When Hale talked about the future threat in Asia, he specifically included "the threat from China".
I am not aware that the Obama administration has so publicly labeled China an adversary. All I have heard in the past is that China is increasingly both a partner and competitor. And that does not mean the existing power and rising power will clash militarily, as some suggest, citing examples from history.
That is why Hagel, who dares to speak the truth, argues for restraint of US military power, and who is willing to work with the US' adversaries, such as Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah, is a great candidate for the defense secretary's job.
With military sequestration looming on March 1, the defense industry and their proxies will definitely try to make more noise to justify a hefty military budget. Meanwhile, the debate about spending on education, job training, renewable energy and helping the poor has already been suppressed.
China should never be blinded and duped by US defense lobbyists into participating in a wasteful arms race with the US. If we do, the whole nation will be sucked into a bottomless pit. That is why someone holding rational views like Hagel could help cool the confrontational rhetoric that is pleasing to the defense industries but detrimental to the welfare of the people in China, the US and the rest of the world.
It will be interesting to observe how rough a ride Hagel will get in his confirmation hearing amid the US' dysfunctional politics.
The author, based in Washington, is deputy editor of China Daily USA. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
(China Daily 01/11/2013 page8)