Chuck Hagel addresses America’s future

by Megan Bristow

Former Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel was the third in a series of five speakers to present information surrounding this year’s Academic Festival’s topic of Afghanistan: Its Complexities and Relevance.

Hagel emphasized several topics within his presentation including the sacrifices that American soldiers have made during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the roles that economic resources play in foreign policy situations and what Americans can do to influence the nation’s future.

According to Hagel, the men and women of the U.S. Armed Forces have sacrificed the most when it comes to the War on Terror in Afghanistan. He stated that there are service members who have been sent back and forth on combat duty tours for the sixth or seventh time back-to-back.  He also said that this is a major difference from previous wars. For example, he mentioned the time that he served in Vietnam. Although he was not a solider by career, he was only there for one year. According to Hagel, even those that were full-time soldiers did not have to spend as much time fighting terrorism as today’s veterans do.  Although he admitted that it is a service member’s choice to serve in today’s military, he said that it still causes a small percentage of the country to absorb almost all the sacrifices of the war instead of it being divided more equally throughout the nation’s citizens.

Hagel said that this war has been a learning experience for our nation, a learning experience that was never expected to last as long as it has.

“This is a very expensive lesson for our country especially for the families that have lost loved ones,” Hagel said. “They are dealing with this and will be for a long time.”

Another issue that Hagel addressed was the objective that we have hoped to achieve in Afghanistan. He asked the audience to consider the questions regarding the war in Afghanistan and future foreign policy: What is our objective? What will the consequences of failing or achieving these objectives be?

Also, in relation to foreign policy and U.S. alliances to prevent future outbreaks, Hagel suggested that it would be wise for America to continue to form alliances and coalitions. These groups, he said, should be formed on the issues that countries agree upon. This will shift the focus from the nation’s disagreements with the rest of the world to the issues that we do agree upon. According to Hagel, this is what America did right after World War II and it effectively promoted peace.

“We were able to convince allies and were able to build relationships based around common interests,” Hagel said.

Hagel said that another major influence on success in today’s realm of global politics is the economic power.

“Economics drive everything,” Hagel said. “Competitive economics, competitive position is everything. A nation’s security is directly linked to and anchored by economics. If you do not have any money, you are in trouble. “

Hagel urged the audience to refer back to his question of the consequences when thinking about economics. He explained that because these foreign endeavors have been so costly, it is important that Americans make absolutely certain the cost of the war is going to be worth the effort that is being put in to it.

Additionally, former senator Chuck Hagel also emphasized the importance of making wise decisions for the future. Although it may be tempting for Americans to make decisions that are the wisest choice for the present state of affairs, he reminded the audience to make decisions that will be the best idea for the future of the nation.

“Yesterday is gone. Today is gone. We do not know what tomorrow brings. Almost every vote that I cast in the 12 years that I was in the Senate was a vote for tomorrow,” Hagel said.

“The votes that I made, almost every one of them had nothing to do with yesterday. That is gone. I can do something — I can, you can and we all can — about tomorrow.”

Hagel concluded by saying he hoped to provide relevant information discussing a variety of pieces of information surrounding foreign policy as it relates to Afghanistan.

“I have said nothing profound here tonight. What I have said, though, are very important and relevant pieces that we all need to come to grips with and think about as we go into the next century because it is going to affect everything: our young people and our future,” Hagel said.

Chuck Hagel is a Distinguished Professor at Georgetown University. He served two terms in the United States Senate from 1997 to 2009.  He authored the book “America: Our Next Chapter” and was the subject of the book “Chuck Hagel: Moving Forward” by University of Nebraska’s Professor Charlyne Berens.  Hagel has also been president of McCarthy & Company, an investment banking firm, and co-founded VANGUARD Cellular Systems, Inc.

Chuck Hagel concluded the series of speakers that will speak at CU during the fall semester as part of the 7th Academic Festival, Afghanistan: Its Complexities and Relevance. The festival will continue on Jan. 19, 2012, with journalist, foreign policy analyst and author Ms. Robin Wright. Tickets for this event will become available on Dec. 5.

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