This week the Senate Armed Services Committee will begin questioning former Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel during his confirmation hearing for secretary of defense. To put into perspective the importance of this position, the defense secretary is in charge of our nation’s largest employer, the Department of Defense, with some 3.5 million employees and a budget in excess of 600 billion dollars. Outside of the president, in terms of responsibility and decision-making powers this is the single most important position in the executive branch of government and requires a person of exceptional skill and exceptional judgment to manage these duties.
This nomination is problematic and should be declined. Hagel’s record, at least as it relates to his potential future possible responsibilities, can accurately be described as fringe.
Take for example one of the primary responsibilities of the Defense Department: to prevent the terrorism, expansionism, and nuclear ambitions of Iran. The most outstanding thing about the senator’s record on the threats America and its allies face is the consistent solicitude he has shown toward Iran and the terrorist organizations and states it funds: Hizbullah, Hamas, and Syria.
In July 2001, Hagel was in a minority of only two senators to vote againstextending the original Iran-Libya sanctions bill, designed to deny both regimes revenues that would assist their weapons of mass destruction programs.
In April 2002, Hagel was one of only 10 senators to oppose banning the import to America of Iraqi oil until Iraq stopped compensating the families of Palestinian suicide bombers. In November 2003, he failed to vote on the Syria Accountability Act (passed by 89 to 4) imposing sanctions on Syria for its support of terrorism and occupation of Lebanon.
In 2004, Hagel refused to sign a letter urging President Bush to highlight Iran’s nuclear program at the G-8 summit.
In 2004, 2007 and 2008 Hagel opposed Iran sanctions.
In 2007, Hagel declined to support the bipartisan Iran Counter Proliferation Act aimed at targeting governments and businesses that assist Iran’s nuclear program. The following year, a congressional aide told the Huffington Post that Hagel was “solely responsible” for blocking an Iran sanctions bill.
His refusal to acknowledge the danger of a nuclear-armed Iran and his consistent opposition to every legislative effort to contain this treat contrasts starkly with the record of almost every other member of the Senate. Despite his recent assurances that he would implement the administration’s policy, Hagel has been so far out of the mainstream on these issues of national security that it defies rational thinking.
Senators by and large are an exceptionally talented and disciplined group. So when such people say things that can embarrass the office, or vote well out of the mainstream, it is usually because they are unable to keep their emotional feelings about the issue in check.
His unfortunate comments about the “Jewish Lobby”; his statement that “I’m not an Israeli senator”; his chairing the Atlantic Council which published an article titled “Israel’s Apartheid Policy,” equating Israel with South Africa’s historic racist policy; his being one of only twelve senators not to urge that Hizbullah be designated a terrorist organization by the European Union; and his being the lone senator to refuse to sign a letter condemning anti-Semitism in Russia should give you insight into his beliefs.
Hagel has other pet peeves. He opposed abortion in cases of rape and incest because those cases are “rare.” He consistently opposed gay rights; among other things, he voted against extending basic employment nondiscrimination protections and the federal hate-crimes law to cover gay Americans.
Is this the person Americans want to be in charge of national defense and to manage the nation’s largest employer?
It is telling that virtually none of Hagel’s former colleagues, even in his own party, are embracing this nomination. Those senators that know him best are opposed.
Most of President Obama’s appointments on his new cabinet vacancies make sense. Senator John Kerry, set to replace Hilary Clinton as secretary of state, is the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and has built tremendous crossroads to Republicans across the aisle. His ability to work across party lines to get legislation passed makes Kerry a strong pick to serve as the nation’s top diplomat.
Jack Lew also makes sense as the successor to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. Before becoming Obama’s chief of staff, Lew was the director of the Office of Management and Budget and had prior success working with President Clinton advising on fiscal policy.
There are many qualified individuals in both parties who would make a superb secretary of defense and further the interests of the United States. Chuck Hagel is not one of them.
About the Author: Dr. Ben Chouake is president of NORPAC, a non-partisan political action committee whose primary purpose is to support candidates and sitting members of the Senate and House of Representatives who demonstrate a genuine commitment to the strength, security, and survival of Israel.
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