By Jeremy Herb
New Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Wednesday that the United States must engage in the world and work with its allies as he addressed Defense Department employees and service members for the first time as Pentagon chief.
“We can't dictate to the world, but we must engage in the world. We must lead with our allies,” Hagel said in his first speech as secretary. “Allies are, as everyone in this room knows, particularly important. No nation — as great as America is — can do any of this alone.”
The Pentagon's Director of Administration and Management Michael Rhodes administered the oath for Hagel in a private ceremony.
Hagel, the first Vietnam veteran to run the Pentagon, acknowledged in his remarks the budget issues and other challenges that lie ahead in his tenure.
“I don't need to dwell on all the good news there — that's a reality,” he said.
But he focused much of his speech on the U.S. role in the world, calling the United States “a force for good.”
“We make mistakes. We've made mistakes. We'll continue to make mistakes,” Hagel said. “But we are a force for good.”
After he was sworn in Wednesday, Hagel visited the 9/11 Memorial outside the Pentagon, and said the events that day still resonate more than a decade later.
“In [Winston] Churchill's words long ago, that was a jarring gong, the event, that set in motion dynamics that we are living with today,” Hagel said.
Hagel concluded his remarks by saying it was time for him to “go to work” — and he will have to hit the ground running this week. The Pentagon is staring down $46 billion in across-the-board cuts under sequestration that are slated to take effect on Friday.
The former Republican Nebraska senator was confirmed Tuesday after a long battle that saw most of his former GOP colleagues oppose his nomination. He was approved in a 58-41 vote, with four Republicans voting to confirm.
The new secretary received congratulatory calls from congressional leaders, Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki and his predecessor, former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, said Pentagon press secretary George Little.
Hagel is sitting down with the military service chiefs Wednesday and will attend meetings at the White House in the afternoon.
This story was updated at 12:01 p.m.