Chuck Hagel’s confirmation-day conversion
Chuck Hagel is a decorated Vietnam veteran with an honorable history fighting for his country, and I commend his personal valor and sacrifice.
But the man who testified before Congress Thursday to become our nation’s next secretary of Defense sounded very different from the one who, for the past two decades, has advocated that the U.S. adopt a weakened posture on the world stage.
As a two-term senator and active participant in foreign policy discussions, Hagel repeatedly declined to support measures to crack down on state sponsors of terrorism, belittled the notion of using any means to prevent a nuclear Iran, advised U.S. leaders to engage in direct negotiations with rogue nations and hostile terrorist groups, and expressed remarkable antagonism towards the longstanding U.S. alliance with Israel. Since Hagel has been nominated to become Defense secretary, however, he’s disavowed each one of these positions.
It all amounts to quite the confirmation day conversion.
Some of my Senate colleagues may be satisfied that the pledges he has made in recent days are more meaningful than his policy record compiled over the past fifteen years. I am not.
Of course, anyone can change their mind on one particular issue; reasonable people do so all the time. However, when a nominee tries to disavow his past positions on virtually every foreign policy issue, all at the same time, it raises serious questions.
There is a reason the Washington Post described Hagel’s views as placing him “near the fringe of the Senate.”
On Iran, Hagel voted against economic sanctions in 2001, 2007, and 2008. Today, he says he supports sanctions.
In 2007, Hagel voted against designating the Iranian Revolutionary Guard — which was then actively providing explosively formed projectiles to kill U.S. servicemen in Iraq — as a terrorist group. Today, he agrees that they are terrorists.
In 2006, he said, “a military strike against Iran, a military option, is not a viable, feasible, responsible option.” Likewise, in 2010, Hagel told the Atlantic Council that he was “not so sure it is necessary to continue to say all options are on the table” regarding Iran’s nuclear program. Today, he says all options (including military force) should be on the table.
On Hamas, in 2005, he declined to join a bi-partisan group of 70 senators (including Senators Clinton and Kerry) who signed a letter to President Bush urging that the Palestinians demand that Hamas reject terrorism before participating in the democratic process. Today, he says Hamas must renounce terrorism.
On Hezbollah, in 2006, he declined to join a bi-partisan group of 88 senators (including Senators Biden, Clinton, Kerry, and Obama) urging the European Union to designate Hezbollah a terrorist organization. Today, he says Hezbollah is, in fact, a terrorist organization.
And on Israel, no senator in recent times has demonstrated as much consistent antagonism as has Hagel. In 1998, he said that the U.S. had “tilted too far towards Israel in the Middle East peace process.”
In 2000, he declined to join a bi-partisan group of 96 senators (including Senators Biden and Kerry) urging President Clinton to express “American solidarity with Israel at this crucial moment, to condemn the Palestinian campaign of violence.”
In 2006, on the floor of the Senate, he accused Israel of carrying out a “sickening slaughter” in Lebanon (and charged Lebanon with doing the same).
Also in 2006 he said “the Jewish Lobby intimidates a lot of people up here,” and he boasted about his ability to resist their views.
Today, he says he will strongly support Israel.
And on America’s role in the world, in 2009 he explicitly agreed with a questioner on Al Jazeera that the “reality” is that the U.S. is “the world’s bully”—a remarkable statement for a prospective Defense secretary to make on a foreign network broadcasting propaganda to nations that have deep hostility to the United States.
Today, he says America is not a “bully.”
It all begs the question, how could someone who has been so engaged in major foreign policy debates so radically reverse his views on so many important matters?
Or, today, is he just telling senators what they want to hear?
In my view, peace through strength has always been the wisest course for our nation. And the principal job of the Defense secretary is to help provide a credible threat to deter those who would seek to harm U.S. national security.
Hagel’s nomination has been publicly celebrated by the Iranian government — surely an occurrence without precedent for a nominee for secretary of Defense. And Iran’s belief that Hagel will not stand against their acquiring nuclear weapons capacity makes it more likely they will charge ahead, which makes it more likely the United States will be drawn into military combat.
I hope that senators in both parties will examine his record closely; as for me, this is a nomination I cannot support.