The Corner

Hagel Stumped By Soldier Asking if Afghanistan Will Fall Apart Like Iraq

Defense secretary Chuck Hagel was stumped by an Army staff sergeant who asked him for an assurance that the security situation in Afghanistan wouldn’t deteriorate after the withdrawal of American forces the way broad areas of Iraq succumbed to the Islamic State.

“In the end each country must take the responsibility for their own futures and for their own fate and for governing themselves,” Hagel replied.

The outgoing Pentagon chief insisted that Iraq and Afghanistan are “more different” than they are alike, although he noted some troubling similarities.

“But yes, some similar threats: terrorism,” he said. “Some of the same factors, some of the same organizations that wanted to do everything they can to destroy the United States as well as Western values and Western civilization. So there are common interests. There are common challenges. But how we work and cooperate with other countries is always — is always a little different. And I think that in this case that’s the case.”

Here’s the full exchange:

Questioner: Mr. Secretary, my name’s Staff Sergeant Harcourt . And I’m from the sergeant’s sister city in the great state of Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh, Pa. I . . .

Hagel: Do you guys get along? Do you talk?

Q: Never met until today.

Hagel: See how we bring people together here.

Q: I earned my master’s degree in history from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. And you mentioned in your talk about modernity and change and how that goes and changing — in a changing world, and how that matters. And from a historical perspective I was just curious. Given the deteriorated security situation in Iraq, how, if at all does that factor into our current foreign policy in deciding our withdrawal process here in Afghanistan, sir?

Hagel: Well, it’s a good question. It would be a question coming from a major of history like you that would be obvious. But let me try and respond this way because you already know an awful lot about history you have, I’m sure, an answer to your question.

But I think a couple of things need to be said in answer to your question. First, Iraq and Afghanistan are totally different situations. And you all understand that. Many of you served in Iraq.

So that’s where you start. There are some similarities, sure. Our role is different in Iraq as it is here. And Iraq has been an ally. We, as you all know and many of you serve there, invested our blood and our treasure there to help the Iraqi people.

But in the end it’s really much about the question of missions and objectives. In the end each country must take the responsibility for their own futures and for their own fate and for governing themselves.

We help allies all over the world different ways, different situations and different locations. And I think the Iraq-Afghanistan situation is one of those where it’s different. It’s totally different than — I think probably more different than similarities.

But yes, some similar threats: terrorism. Some of the same factors, some of the same organizations that wanted to do everything they can to destroy the United States as well as Western values and Western civilization.

So there are common interests. There are common challenges. But how we work and cooperate with other countries is always — is always a little different. And I think that in this case that’s the case.

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