Recently by Eric Margolis: Which New War To Fight?
Secretary of Defense is the second most important and the toughest job in the US government after President.
Since the 9/11 attacks, US foreign policy has become highly militarized. The Pentagon today dominates US relations with the rest of the world, not the State Department or CIA.
The Pentagon's 2013 total budget will be $800 billion when all programs, including "black" projects, are included.
This mammoth sum represents almost 50% of the world's total military spending. Add close US allies in Europe, the Mideast, and Asia, and the figure is 80%.
Contrary to what most Americans believe, the US Defense Department is not really about defense of America's shores, but about offensive operations abroad. The US has some 1,000 bases and powerful air, naval and land forces scattered across the globe enforcing the Pax Americana.
Americans are relentlessly bombarded by media and Republicans about alleged dire threats from abroad, conjuring still raw memories of 9/11, though evidence is scanty or absent.
But something remarkable has just occurred in Washington, a place that rarely produces much good news.
President Barack Obama, now in his last term and freed of many political constraints, has challenged powerful vested special interests by naming former US Republican Senator and decorated war veteran Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense. Hagel, wounded twice in Vietnam, is the first former enlisted man to head the Pentagon.
On taking office, Hagel called on the US to resume being a "force for good" in the world and avoid "dictating" to other nations. These were breathtaking words after all the Republican claims of "American exceptionalism" — code for world domination.
Washington is notorious for grinding down men in office and thwarting their hopes. The nation's capitol and particularly Congress have been deeply corrupted by special interest money.
Hagel's nomination caused a firestorm among Congressional Republicans who accused Hagel of everything from being anti-Israel and pro-Iranian to accepting money from North Korea.
The former Nebraska senator was slandered, defamed and vilified by fellow Republicans. It was as sickening a display of hypocrisy and pandering as this veteran journalist (and army veteran) has seen.
Verbally warlike senators and congressmen who had dodged national service during the Vietnam War (we call them "chickenhawks") had the nerve to accuse decorated veteran Hagel of being unpatriotic for opposing the disastrous US war against Iraq and for failing to advocate war against Iran.
Behind all this, of course, was the hugely powerful pro-Israel lobby. In official Washington, it is taboo to even say there is an Israel lobby, though in reality everyone knows it dictates Mideast policy to Congress.
When accused some years ago of being insufficiently pro-Israel, the tough-talking Hagel shot back that he was a senator from the US, not Israel. This flaming heresy forever branded Hagel an enemy to the pro-Israel lobby and its ardent Republican supporters.
Obama's appointment of Chuck Hagel was also a stinging slap in the face to Israel's PM Benjamin Netanyahu, who had humiliated Obama and Vice President Joe Biden on numerous occasions and even worked with Republicans to defeat Obama in the last presidential elections.
Hagel must now fend off his foes in Congress and the media while wrestling with sharp cuts in military spending, layoffs of some of the 800,000 civilian Pentagon employees, and delays or cancellations of sacred cow weapons programs like the absurdly expensive F-35 fighter, new aircraft carriers, and anti-missile programs.
The US military-industrial complex has cleverly put arms plants in most US states, assuring that cuts in Pentagon spending will produce howls of national opposition from senators and congressmen.
Still, Secretary Hagel speaks for many moderate Americans, and even for members of the Pentagon and CIA, who want to end America's post-9/11 heavy-handed policies, stop the fear-mongering over so-called "terrorism," and use the mighty US armed forces to help people around the world.
That's the hope. But slowing down the Pentagon juggernaut will be very difficult. Reports say US special forces are now entering Niger and planning to stay on in Afghanistan. Anti-China fever is growing at a time when the US must work out a way to peacefully manage China's rising power.
Secretary Hagel will have his work cut out for him.
Eric Margolis [send him mail] is the author of War at the Top of the World and the new book, American Raj: Liberation or Domination?: Resolving the Conflict Between the West and the Muslim World. See his website.