POMED Notes: Confirmation Hearing for Secretary of Defense Nominee Chuck Hagel
On Thursday, January 31, 2013 the U.S. Senate Committee on Armed Services conducted a confirmation hearing on the expected nomination of Charles T. Hagel to be Secretary of Defense. Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) presided.
Continue reading for full notes, or click here for the PDF.Senator Carl Levin opened the hearing by welcoming Senator Hagel and noting that if confirmed, he would become the first former enlisted man and the first veteran of the Vietnam War to serve as Secretary of Defense. In describing the new and growing threats around the world Levin mentioned “the ongoing threat posed by Iran’s nuclear weapons program and the increasingly destructive civil war in Syria with the risk that conflict could result in the loss of control over that country’s substantial stockpile of chemical weapons.” He further included the regional instability resulting from the Arab Spring and the growth of al-Qaeda affiliates in Yemen and North Africa. Senator Levin then brought up some controversial statements made by Hagel about Iran and Israel, foreshadowing the numerous questions and heated exchanges that would follow. Levin concluded, “The President needs to have a Secretary of Defense in whom he has trust, who will give him unvarnished advice, a person of integrity, and one who has a personal understanding of the consequences of decisions relative to the use of military force. Senator Hagel certainly has those critically important qualifications to lead the Department of Defense.”
Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), the committee’s ranking republican, spoke next. Inhofe commended Hagel’s military service but said he was too “philosophically opposed” with Hagel’s ideas about the many issues facing our country to support his nomination. “His record demonstrates what I view as a lack of steadfast opposition to policies that diminish U.S. power and influence throughout the world,” he said. Specifically, Inhofe doubted Hagel’s position on Iran and his support for Israel. Inhofe added that he was concerned with Hagel’s “willingness to walk back or alter his position, possibly for the sake of political expediency…” and therefore Inhofe concluded, “I believe that he is the wrong person to lead the Pentagon at this perilous and consequential time.”
Two former chairmen of the Senate Armed Services Committee then introduced Senator Charles Hagel, and afterwards Hagel delivered his own opening statement. Referencing his many controversial comments that would become the focus of much of the hearing, Hagel stated “no one individual vote, no one individual quote, no one individual statement defines me, my beliefs, or my record.” He continued, “My overall world view has never changed: that America has and must maintain the strongest military in the world, that we must lead the international community to confront threats and challenges together, and take advantage of opportunities together; that we must use all our tools of American power to protect our citizens and our interests.” He then made his position on Iran clear, saying that he is fully committed to the President’s goal of preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapon. Hagel followed up by elucidating his position on Israel, saying “I will ensure our friend and ally Israel maintains its qualitative military edge in the region, and will continue to support systems like Iron Dome, which is today saving Israeli lives from terrorist rocket attacks. That support I have always made clear and been on the record for.” Hagel later divulged his one “guiding principal” on every security decision he has made and vote he has cast: “is our policy worthy of our troops and their families and the sacrifices that we ask them to make?” He concluded, “That same question will guide me if I am confirmed as Secretary of Defense.”
Senator Levin began the questioning and asked Hagel about his stance on Iran, to which the nominee responded that he strongly agreed with Obama’s position that all options should be on the table and supported the use of multilateral sanctions while saying that he judges unilateral sanctions on a case by case basis.
Senator Inhofe continued the questioning and pressed Hagel on his past votes related to Israel and Iran. In response to a yes or no question, Hagel confirmed that he once voted against designating the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization. Hagel explained himself in a later question by Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) by saying that he and 22 other senators were concerned that such a designation would give the president the power to go to war with Iran without consulting the congress.
Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) followed Senator Inhofe and, among other things, asked about the nominee’s commitment to Israel. Hagel stated, “I have never voted against Israel ever in the 12 years I was in the Senate whether it was military authorizations [or] additional supplemental appropriations.
Senator John McCain (R-AZ) questioned Hagel next. He stated that he, along with other members of the committee, have fundamental disagreements with Hagel’s positions. “Our concerns pertain to the quality of your professional judgment and your world view on critical areas of national security, including security in the Middle East.” McCain then began a line of questioning related to Hagel’s comments on the surge of troops in Iraq, which Hagel had said was a mistake. “Were you correct or incorrect when you said that ‘The surge would be the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam.’ Where you correct or incorrect, yes or no?” McCain asked. Hagel responded, “Well, I am not going to give you a yes or no. I think it is far more complicated that, as I have already said. My answer is, I will defer that judgment to history.” He then commented that he believed the war in Iraq was the most dangerous foreign policy decision since Vietnam. McCain then moved to the topic of Syria. He asked, “Do you think we should make sure that the Syrians get the weapons they need, and perhaps establish a no fly zone?” Hagel didn’t give a definitive answer and said he had not been apart of the President’s strategy sessions and didn’t know the details.
Later questioning by Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) went back to the subject of Iran. “Do you believe Iran is currently a state sponsor or terrorism and provides material support to Hezbollah and to Hamas?” she asked. Hagel responded, “Yes, and I am on the record a number of times saying that.” He also reaffirmed his support for the use of sanctions against Iran.
Questions from Senator Mark Udall (D-CO) brought up the issues of Israel and Iran again. In response to Udall’s question about Iran, Hagel reaffirmed his commitment to keep the military option on the table and said that he strongly supports the President’s position. Udall then asked Hagel to talk about his views on Israel. Hagel stated, “I am a strong supporter of Israel. I have been. I will continue to be. I have also said specifically… that we have a special relationship with Israel.” Udall then brought up Hagel’s vote against declaring the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization, saying “in the end you were protecting the Congress’ prerogative when it comes to declaring war. Is that correct?” Hagel responded, “That’s exactly right.”
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) later asked Hagel about Iran and Israel. Specifically, she refereed back to one of Hagel’s earlier statements that called the Iranian government “legitimate.” Gillibrand stated, “I do not see Iran or the Iranian government as a legitimate government, and I would like your thoughts on that.” Hagel responded that he should’ve said Iran was recognized by the U.N. and mentioned that there were countries with embassies in Tehran, not that he agreed with the government. Gillibrand then stated, “Israel’s security is very important, and I have been one of the strongest advocates for our alliance, fighting for more increases in missile defense cooperation as well as coordination on a number of the technology programs that are fundamental to Israel’s security.” She then asked, “Will you personally support robust funding for Iron Dome, David’s Sling, and other programs?” Hagel answered, “I fully support and will continue to fully support Iron Dome and Arrow and David’s Sling.” He then added that while the programs are a priority, he would have to better understand the fiscal situation before he could commit to funding both programs in the face of sequestration. Gillibrand then asked Hagel about aid money to Egypt, which she believes should increasingly be used to fight terrorism in the Sinai. Hagel agreed that the situation in the Sinai was a huge challenge and that he would work with America’s allies to fight the problem.
Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) questioned the nominee next. He brought up a letter Hagel refused to sign in 2006 that asked the European Union to consider Hezbollah a terrorist organization. Hagel explained that he didn’t think it was right for Congress to send policy requests to foreign leaders, he felt that was the president’s job.
Later questions from Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) reexamined Hagel’s’ support for Israel. He played an excerpt from a 2009 Al-Jazeera interview in which a caller accused Israel of war crimes and Hagel did not refute the caller’s claim. Cruz stated, “I would suggest that a suggestion that Israel has committed war crimes is particularly offensive, given that the Jewish people suffered under the most horrific war crimes in the Holocaust.” Cruz also referred to a speech Hagel gave in 2006 where he referred to Israel’s military campaign against the terrorist group Hezbollah as a “sickening slaughter.” Cruz asked if Hagel stood by this characterization, to which Hagel responded, “I would want to read all of it, what I said. First, I have said many, many times, Senator, every nation has a right to defend itself.”
Senator David Vitter (R-LA) later questioned Hagel about his statements on Iran. He wanted clarification on his remark that Iran was a “legitimate elected government.” Hagel stated that instead of “legitimate” he should have used the word “recognized.” He then speculated on Iran’s coming election, saying, I do know that Iran is not exactly a model democracy and it has not been. So I don’t have any expectations for a free, fair election.”
A later question from Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) led to Hagel reaffirming his commitment to Israel. He said, “My support of Israel’s security is and always has been very clear. I strongly support Israel. The security of Israel is a commitment that we made to Israel in 1948 when Israel was born under American leadership, Harry Truman. That commitment is a bond that is more than just an ally to ally. It is special, it’s historical, it’s values-driven.”
Later questions continued to touch on the issues of Israel, Iran, nuclear disarmament, budget issues and others. The hearing was adjourned at 5:50 pm.