By Deena Winter | Nebraska Watchdog
Former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel faced tough questioning from the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday during his confirmation hearing to be President Obama’s defense secretary — particularly from a man who calls him a friend.
Arizona Sen. John McCain called Hagel an “old friend” but quickly began needling him about statements in 2008 criticizing the surge in the Iraq War, questioning the quality of Hagel’s professional judgment and world view of national security.
“I would defer to the judgment of history to sort that out,” said Hagel, a decorated Vietnam War veteran.
McCain said “any casual observer” could see the surge was beneficial. “I think history has already made a judgment.”
McCain repeatedly tried to get Hagel to answer whether he was right or wrong in calling the surge a blunder and quagmire, and said his answer would affect how he votes on Hagel’s confirmation.
Hagel said when he called the surge the ”most dangerous foreign policy blunder” since Vietnam, he was disagreeing with the overall decision to go to war in Iraq — which aside from the “cost in blood and treasure” took the focus off Afghanistan.
“Our war in Iraq I think was the most fundamentally bad, dangerous decision since Vietnam,” Hagel said.
“Were you right or wrong?” McCain asked regarding the surge. “I want a direct answer.”
Hagel — who represented Nebraska in the U.S. Senate from 1997 to 2009
— finally got his chance to answer charges that he’s not sufficiently pro-Israel and anti-Iran. Republican Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe, who has said he will vote against Hagel’s confirmation, led the charge on that front, questioning Hagel’s past comments and votes on issues of Israel and Iran.
Inhofe said Hagel was one of two senators to vote against a bill extending harsh sanctions against Iran in 2001, was one of four senators who refused to sign a 2000 letter reaffirming solidarity with Israel, advocated for direct negotiations with Iran, has advocated nuclear disarmament and voted against designating the Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization.
“He’s the wrong person to lead the Pentagon at this perilous and consequential time,” Inhofe said.
Hagel said in the more than 3,000 votes and hundreds of interviews and speeches he’s given that are not being scrutinized, his goal was always to make the world a better and more secure place. As a senator, he said, his guiding principle was: “Is our policy worthy of our troops and their families and the sacrifices we ask them to make?”
“I’m on the record,” he said. “But no one individual quote defines me, my beliefs or my record.”
Hagel said he supports the president’s policy of prevention on Iran and that all options are on the table to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Hagel said when he voted against sanctions on Iran in 2001, “It was different time.”
“We were at a different place with Iran at that time,” he said. “It was never a question of did I disagree with the objective.”
Nebraska Sen. Deb Fischer said Hagel continues to hold extreme views “far to the left of even this administration.”
“I must admit, I’m more worried that your views have not changed,” she said.
Hagel was asked whether he agreed with statements in a May 2012 Global Zero report about modernizing America’s nuclear strategy that Hagel coauthored.
Hagel repeatedly told senators the 25-page report was not a recommendation but a series of scenarios that were “illustrative” as ways we could reduce warheads bilaterally. He quoted former President Reagan, who said nuclear weapons should be wiped from the face of the Earth, and said most world leaders agree with continued reduction of nuclear weapons.
At one point in the hearing, Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson invited Hagel to talk about how he was wounded twice in the Vietnam War. Hagel brushed that aside, saying he played an insignificant role in the war, but said his military experience informs his decisions.
“I saw it from the bottom. I saw what happens. I saw the consequences and the suffering and the horror of war,” he said. “It does condition you. I’m not shaped, framed, molded, consumed by that experience. Of course not. But it’s part of me.”
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