The Many Mixed Messages of “Good Time Charlie” Hagel:

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel Visits ChinaThe other day I wrote about our Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Mr. Casual, who is touring the Far East in an official capacity but dressing as if he’s on a personal vacation. I mentioned I looked forward to seeing how he would dress in China. I noted the Asians are very much into formality and his appearance in a sports coat, green pants, open shirt,etc on his arrival in Japan had to have left an unfavorable impression on the Japanese. I wondered how he would arrive in China noting if he dressed other than how he did in Japan it would not be taken well in Japan, but on the other hand I suggested if he dressed down in China his impression there would not be the best.

Well the answer is in. He is consistent. See photograph above. It’s as if he’s at a frat party: blue sports jacket, purple shirt, khaki slacks and loafers with bright yellow soles. The U.S. ambassador that showed up to meet him dressed properly in a dark suit and white shirt but apparently had to quickly ditch his tie to lessen the contrast. It’s pretty bad when the security team dresses better than the boss. It reminds me of the time when casual Fridays first took hold in the law profession. In some of the downtown office buildings the custodians in their suits and ties looked more lawyer-like than the lawyers.

HagelBut then again Hagel is not as consistent as he should be. Recall I first came to the subject when I saw him reviewing the Japanese Honor Guard in a sports coat as shown on the left. I suggested it showed a little disrespect. I had never having seen any official dress down like that – it was like going to the meet the Queen of England in jeans. There are protocols which define what a nation thinks of itself and others.

Hagel reviewing Chinese troopsI had no idea if the Chinese would provide Hagel with an Honor Guard, which they did. As you can see, he felt the Chinese deserve more respect than the Japanese since he dressed appropriately in reviewing it. I’m curious to think of the message he is sending to Japan. It couldn’t be a good one. And don’t think the Japanese do not take notice of these things. If China decides to move against the Japanese territories they must be wondering whether Hagel will be too busy at a pool party to properly respond.

Hagel’s disrespect to the Japanese and his turn around in China has not served him well in China. Hagel seeking deeper military ties with China said he wanted: “to deepen practical cooperation in areas of common interest, and to manage competition and differences through openness and communication.” He did note that better: “relations will not come at the expense of our relations with others in the region or elsewhere”

In response Beijing’s Defense Minister General Chang Wanquan told him: “With the latest developments in China, it can never be contained.” He went on to say:“I’d like to reiterate that the territorial sovereignty issue is China’s core interest. . . . On this issue, we will make no compromise, no concessions and not even a tiny bit of violation is allowed.” 

Speaking at the People’s Liberation Army’s National Defense University Hagel said that the “Pentagon recently “for the first time ever — provided to representatives of the Chinese government a briefing” on the Defense Department’s “doctrine governing the use of its cyber capabilities.” Wow, I thought, Mr. Casual is letting the fox into the hen house. Surely we got something in return for that other than a hardy handshake.

We got nothing. We did it with a hope China would reciprocate. Hagel said. “We have urged China to do the same.” It’s like playing Texas Hold’em and showing your down cards hoping your opponent would do the same. It’s a product of easy, undisciplined, thinking as Hagel has shown when he is involved in serious business but acts like he’s just going to a neighborhood gathering.

When asked if China would reciprocate to America showing its hand, Chinese Defense Minister Chang said: “China stands ready to enter deeper communication with the U.S. and together to transfer this vision to policy and concrete actions.” In other words China will think about it but don’t hold your breath.

It is reported Hagel said“the US welcomed a strong and emerging China that takes on responsibilities for security in the region.”  He also assured the audience at the Defense University that with respect to the territorial disputes between China and Japan and China and the Philippines “that America had no interest in trying to “contain China” and that it took no position in such disputes.”  Yet he did note we have mutual self defense treaties with each of those two countries,

Meanwhile back in New York China’s ambassador to the United States Cui Tiankai said Washington needed to think hard about the purpose of its military presence in Asia and whether its political agenda and those of its Asian allies were the same telling the US of its need to move away from “outdated alliances”. Fan Changlong (R), vice-chairman of China’s Central Military Commission told Hagel when he met him in front of the press: “The Chinese people, including myself, are dissatisfied with such remarks [made in Japan to ASEAN defense ministers. Apparently in Japan Hagel backed Japanese claims to the Diaoyu Islands but in China he said the U.S. has no position on it..”)

Hagel’s casual approach is not good for America. China has been closely watching our actions. I’m beginning to wonder if Hagel is up to the job.

2 thoughts on “The Many Mixed Messages of “Good Time Charlie” Hagel:

  1. Thank you author for noticing that the Def Sec looked more like he was on his way to play golf than meet with his counterparts on his trip. The informal manner in which so many people who both hold high public office and work for those that do reflects very poorly on not only themselves but the people they represent. What kind of message does it send when people look like their on their way to a barbecue rather on their way to a business meeting? Many of the Asian people I see here on vacation are dressed better than he was on this business trip. What is happening with the dispute between China and Japan is watched very closely in this part of the world. That situation and the unpredictable nature of the leader of North Korea make this part of the world a potential flashpoint so to speak in not just the future but right now. You would think that the Def Sec would recognize that wearing a business suit ala Richard Nixon dark and with an everpresent tie regardless of time of year or climate would represent the serious nature of what his trip was all about. The socalled pivot of resources to the Pacific Region demands nothing less

    1. Norwood:

      What you say is true. He did look like he was going to a barbecue and that sends a message to other nations that we do not really have our heads in the game. The last thing we want to show is that we are not a serious nation because in doing so we won’t be taken seriously.

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