FORT MYER, Va. — Outgoing Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel echoed the criticism towards American foreign policy he expressed upon taking office almost two years ago during his farewell ceremony on Wednesday.
“We’ve made mistakes,” said Hagel, reciting comments he made when he was sworn in on February 27, 2013. “We will make more mistakes, but we hold tightly to one of America’s greatest strengths: the capacity and the constitutional structure that allows us to self-correct.”
“We can change systems, right wrongs, solve problems, and start over,” he continued, during Wednesday’s ceremony at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall near the Arlington National Cemetery. “But we must get the big things right.”
He elaborated further during one of his recent stops in his farewell tour – a visit to the Marine Corps Air Station in Miramar, Calif.
“You can’t force the United States’ value system and our values and our standards and our structures and our institutions down anybody’s throat,” he told the Marines on January 13. “And we make huge mistakes when we think we can go around and make many USAs all over the world.”
“The United States in a lot of our foreign policy over many years, the mistakes we’ve made is because we have tried to force things,” he added.
Hagel, the lone Republican on the White House’s national security team and the first enlisted combat veteran to serve as Defense secretary, was reportedly forced to step down under pressure from Obama.
The outgoing defense chief oversaw the end of combat operations in Afghanistan, the beginning of a military campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and military efforts to contain the deadly Ebola virus in West Africa, among other conflicts.
“We must recognize that there’s not an immediate answer to every problem,” noted Hagel on Wednesday. “Some problems require evolving solutions that give us the time and the space to adjust and the patience to seek higher ground and lasting results.”
“Our world, captive to immediacy, uncertainty, and complexity, is not moving toward less complicated problems, but rather toward more global challenges rooted in historic injustices and conflicts,” he continued.
Again stressing comments he made upon taking office, he called for building partnerships around the world.
During Wednesday’s ceremony, Hagel was commended for his service to the United States as a soldier and Defense secretary by President Obama, Vice President Biden, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Martin Dempsey. The first Vietnam War veteran to hold the post of Defense secretary was also honored by top military brass.
“One last point — of all the opportunities my life has given me, and I have been blessed with so many, I am most proud of having once been a soldier,” the defense secretary said.
President Obama said Hagel is a “true American patriot” and credited him with fostering key U.S. partnerships in the Middle East and bringing in Arab nations into the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State jihadists.
“You’ve always been guided by one interest, what you believe is best for America and I thank you for your friendship and your counsel and all of us thank your character and your integrity,” Obama told Hagel on Wednesday.
Obama nominated former Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter to replace Hagel. He is waiting to be confirmed by the Senate.