Hagel Faces Scrutiny on First Hearing Day
Published: Friday, February 1, 2013
Updated: Friday, February 1, 2013 02:02
In sharp contrast to the speedy and near-unanimous Jan. 29 confirmation of Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) for secretary of state, Georgetown professor and former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) faced a contentious first day of questioning Thursday at his hearing for secretary of defense.
Hagel testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee, which consists of 14 Democrats and 12 Republicans. Although Hagel is a Republican, some of his most vocal critics since Obama nominated him Jan. 7 have been fellow party members. Some Democrats on the committee also voiced concern with Hagel’s nomination at the hearing.
The first criticisms of Hagel came in the opening statements from committee chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and ranking member Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.).
While Levin noted Hagel’s service in the Vietnam War, he also criticized the former senator’s willingness to engage in talks with Iran as well his stance on U.S. relations with Israel.
Inhofe expressed dissent towards the nomination, saying that he and Hagel are “too philosophically opposed.”
“Sen. Hagel’s record is deeply troubling and out of the mainstream,” Inhofe said.
Hagel had support, however, from former Chairmen of the Armed Services Committee Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) and John Warner (R-Va.), who introduced him prior to his own remarks.
“War for Chuck Hagel is not an abstraction,” Nunn said. “I’m confident that if he is confirmed, he will ask the tough questions.”
If confirmed, Hagel would be the first enlisted person and first Vietnam War veteran to be secretary of defense.
In his opening statement, Hagel said that as secretary of defense he would focus on counterterrorism and training Afghan forces in addition to enforcing his policy of prevention —as opposed to containment — of Iranian nuclear capability.
He also stressed his commitment to the men and women in the armed forces.
“Their safety success and welfare will always be at the forefront of the decisions I make,” he said.
Once the committee began its questioning, the hearing atmosphere became more heated.
Several senators grilled Hagel on Israel, but he emphasized that his record shows a clear support of the country and said that he had never voted against Israel in his 12 years in the Senate.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) countered Hagel’s statements by bringing up a letter that expressed support for Israel.
“The lack of signature [on that letter] by you sends chills up my spine,” Graham said.
Another recurring theme was Iran. Hagel came under fire following his nomination for his beliefs that the United States should engage with Iran, which has been called a state sponsor of terrorism.
“Engagement is not appeasement. Engagement is not surrender,” Hagel said at his hearing.
.Nuclear disarmament, particularly Hagel’s involvement with Global Zero — an organization pushing for the elimination of nuclear weapons — and a report co-authored by him in 2012 was called into question by several senators.
“I’m uneasy about that vision expressed in your committee report,” Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) said.
However, Hagel’s most difficult moment may have been Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) questioning regarding the military surge in Iraq, which sent over 20,000 troops abroad in 2007.
“I’m not going to give you a yes or no answer,” Hagel said on whether the surge was correct or incorrect. “I’ll defer that judgment to history.”
“I think history has already made a judgment on the surge and I think you’re on the wrong side of it,” McCain said.
Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) was one of the few senators today who openly expressed support for Hagel and said that he would vote for the nominee.
If Hagel’s confirmation is approved by the committee, it will be brought to a full vote in the Senate, where politicians from both parties have pledged support. The Wall Street Journal predicts that Hagel’s confirmation may take several weeks. Proceedings will continue next Thursday.