All In   |  April 03, 2013

Is Chuck Hagel the reformer we were promised?

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel gave his first major policy speech Wednesday. Chris Hayes discusses whether or not Hagel can be seen as a “reformer” with his guests Mattea Kramer, Spencer Ackerma,n and Mattie Duppler.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> a huge day for the u.s. defense establishment, the entity that 25% of every income tax dollar goes to. today, secretary of defense chuck hagel gave his first major speech since he assumed the post in february. his first opportunity after a very rocky confirmation process to lay out his grand vision for the pentagon , one that focused largely on promises of change.

>> change that involves not just tweaking or chipping away at existing structures and practices, but where necessary, fashioning entirely new ones that are better suited to 21st century realities and challenges. deep political and institutional obstacles through necessary reforms will need to be engaged and overcome.

>> former republican senator from nebraska was a leading critic of the iraq surge , spoke out forcibly about israel's bombing campaign against lebanon in 2006 , and has worked, maybe more accurately had a penchant for speaking frankly about cuts to the pentagon . here's hagel in 2011 .

>> our defense department budget is not a jobs program, it's not an economical development program for my state or district.

>> he's someone who could and would take on the taboos of the defense establish. likely made him attractive to the president and elicited a genuinely hysterical response to his nomination from those on the right who said he was indifferent on the nuclear program . during his testimony in front of the senate earlier this year, hagel did not inspire confidence. he struggled to explain previous and laudable positions under interrogation from hostile senators and outright disowned a couple of them. so, the big, crucial, defining question for the second term of barack obama and the multibillion fate of the largest defense apparatus is, is chuck hagel as secretary of defense the radical reformer those on the right feared and those on the left hoped for or has he been coopted he promised today to take on? joining me is matija kramer, a tax policy research group, spencer ackerman , senior reporter for the blog "the danger room," and matty dupler. i feel like being the head of the pentagon is like being the pope. it's like when there's a new -- when there's a vacancy, well, this next one's really going to have to deal with reforming the institution. they need reform inside the curiam. there's a lot of rot in there. then you go in, and guess what, you get coopted by the institution. what is your feeling about where chuck hagel will fit into that trajectory?

>> there's a joke among defense reporters --

>> my favorite genre of joke.

>> naturally. outside of papacy jokes. a joke that in order to be defense secretary , you have to give this speech that hagel gave, that you come in, you're going to make sure acquisitions are going to get cleaned up, personnel policies are going to be aligned with what's actually in the national interest , costs are going to come under control. you also can't get out of the pentagon before you renege on all of that and the building has ground you down into a fine powder. in terms of everything hagel said today, there's a lot for reformers to get excited about. implementation is what this is all about.

>> since you tee this up, i want to play this incredible bit of sound that one of our second producers found, which is a speech that has been lost to history, but was given by donald rumsfeld on september 10 , 2001 , vowing in much sharper terms, vowing to take on the pentagon establishment. take a listen.

>> let's make no mistake, the modernization of the department of defense is a matter of some urgency. in fact, it could be said that it's a matter of life and death , ultimately, every american. a new idea ignored may be the next threat overlooked. a person employed in a redundant task is one that could be countering terrorism or nuclear proliferation . every dollar squandered on waste is one denied to the war fighter. that's why we're here today, challenging us all to wage an all-out campaign to shift pentagon 's resources from bureaucracy to the battlefield, from tale to the tip. some might ask how in the world could the secretary of defense attack the pentagon in front of its people. to them i reply, i have no desire to attack the pentagon , i want to liberate it. we need to save it from itself.

>> now, i'm now confused, because what i want to say is, well, hagel didn't sound rumsfe rumsfeldian, but is that a good or bad thing?

>> hard to tell, hard to tell. this year in so-called austerity climate, we're going to spend $630 billion on defense , and here's the thing, they can't even tell us where all that money's going, because the pentagon can't pass an audit. those are big numbers . hagel put out some big stuff today. there's a lot to be excited about. he said, we can't just tweak. now the question is, we've heard that before. are we now going to see tweaks or are we going to see the real change he just gestured at?

>> the reason i wanted to have you hear, mattie, you've been on "up" before, but i think it's fair to say skeptical about the size of the defense budget .

>> right.

>> i was sort of amazed, i have to say, you guys won a victory, which was i thought republicans were going to blanch at the sequester, and the reason they were going to blanch at the sequester, in fact, the design of the sequester was put something in to make them blanch, the $85 billion in the first year, half are on the defense side, which it's a big budget, but that's a big chunk, that's going to take a bite. somehow republicans got themselves to being okay with this. the question is, will that create political space for chuck hagel to do something more than tweaking?

>> right. this is what we talked about last time i was on, that sequester was supposed to be the nerf ball, one of those things republicans didn't blink, and i think it does make it a lot easier to do some of the things we hope for, the kind of reform that we talk about all the time, because now republicans can't be impediment to the left or the right that they were before. look, they've done it once before. what's to say the second time this is different? you can't so say, no, i would never touch defense spending if you've already done it.

>> does that scan to you?

>> there's a line in the speech that risks getting overlooked in which he actually gives republican defense hawks an out, in which he says, if you want us to not have these cuts be so drastic, so dramatic, not maybe put everything on the table, to go a little slower about this or not cut as deeper, give us some kind of certainty in terms of what our budgets are going to be going forward. translated from the politician, it means you have to raise taxes.

>> that's interesting.

>> i don't know where that goes.

>> one of the things i think is interesting is we now have, you know, on my monitor today, the hagel speech was here and north korea news stacking up on the other screen. and, of course, there's a connection between the north korea news and how hard it is to cut the pentagon budget, right? because when the north korea stuff is in the news, all of a sudden we're sending a missile defense system to guam, right, because when security's on the line, the money gets spent. i want to talk about that and talk about the nexus between those two and what to make of what's going on in north korea and south