Dick Cheney spoke at AEI yesterday, getting a mite less coverage than he's used to—probably the function of a presidential speech, later that day, that Cheney did not disagree with tactically. If you read the transcript, you'll find a quote from Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel that sounds almost insanely self-defeating.
When you have a president whose primary concern is never to, quote, “elevate” America, it’s no surprise that we also have a defense secretary in a serious state of alarm. “The world,” as Secretary Hagel said a few weeks ago, “is exploding all over.”
Cheney sourced the Obama quote to his 2009 U.N. address, but left the Hagel quote hanging in the air. It sort of sounded like a Hagel-ism; we're talking, after all, about the defense secretary who said ISIS was "as sophisticated and well-funded as any group that we have seen" and then "beyond anything we've seen," in the same press conference. But if it seemed like "the world is exploding" was a shocking admission, it might have been because it wasn't Hagel's sentiment. It was his paraphrase, a month ago, of a question he seemed to keep getting.
Q: Good afternoon, sir. My question is that, given that the administration's primary focus is on the Pacific theater, how has all of the issues popping up in the world today, Russia, Iraq, Africa, the rest of the theaters pretty much affected that current mission? And how do you foresee that affecting the mission in the future?
SEC. HAGEL: Thank you. That's a—go ahead, sit down—that's a question I got often when I was in India and Australia. And the trip I just came from was my sixth trip to the Asia Pacific area in the last year-and-a-half. I've got four planned this calendar year. And so I get that question all the time. It's a legitimate question for the very reasons you asked. The world is exploding all over. And so is the United States going to continue to have the resources, the capabilities, the leadership, the bandwidth to continue with the rebalance toward the Asia Pacific? And the answer is yes. And I think, as what I did in taking questions yesterday on this, it is pretty clear on where we are today and what we have committed to do, we are continuing to do.
The "world is exploding" part of that answer became a hit item at the Weekly Standard; this might have made its harum scarum cameo in a Cheney speech inevitable. Cheney, et al. did to the quote what the larger punditocracy did to Obama's "we have no strategy" quote about ISIS, a comment made after weeks of airstrikes that was interpreted as proof that Obama was acting without aims. And all of this is disconnected to the data or stories of threats to America, which are so easily overrated; Gary Brecher, as usual, is worth reading on that.