Next week, the Senate Armed Services Committee will begin questioning former Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel during his confirmation hearing for secretary of defense.
To put the importance of this position into perspective, 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. 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. It requires a person of exceptional skill and exceptional judgment to manage these duties.
We believe that this nomination is problematic and should be declined. Sen. Hagel’s record related to his future possible responsibilities can be accurately described as fringe. Take for example one of the primary responsibilities of the Defense Department: to prevent terrorism, expansionism, and nuclear ambitions from 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: Hezbollah, Hamas, and Syria.
In July 2001, Sen. Hagel was in a minority of only two senators to vote against extending 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, which imposed sanctions on Syria for its support of terrorism and occupation of Lebanon. The act passed by a vote of 89 to 4.
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 sanctions on Iran.
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 is in stark contrast to almost every other member of the Senate. Hagel, despite recent assurances that he would implement the administration’s policy, 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 bell curve, 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 am not the senator from Israel”; his chairing the Atlantic Council, which published an article titled ‘Israel’s Apartheid Policy’ that equated Israel with South Africa’s historic racist policy; his being one of 12 senators not to urge that Hezbollah 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 repeatedly voted against amendments to allow servicewomen to pay for abortion services at military hospitals out of their own pockets. He also opposed abortion in cases of rape and incest because those cases are “rare.” He consistently voted against gay rights; three times his record earned him a zero percent rating from the Human Rights Campaign, the leading LGBT rights lobby. Among other things, Hagel voted against extending basic employment nondiscrimination protections and the federal hate-crimes law to cover gay Americans.
In 1998, after President Bill Clinton nominated a prominent gay-rights advocate from San Francisco, James Hormel, to be the ambassador to Luxembourg, Hagel, then a senator, seemed to go out of his way to malign not only Hormel – he called him “openly, aggressively gay” – but gay Americans generally, with comments that were blatantly offensive even then. His comments suggested that the very fact of being gay should disqualify someone from representing America abroad.
Is this the person we wish 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 to it.
Most of President Obama’s appointments to fill the vacancies in his new cabinet make sense. Sen. John Kerry, set to replace Hillary Clinton as secretary of state, is the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and has built tremendous crossroads with his Republican neighbors across the aisle by working hand in hand with ranking Republican Sen. Richard Lugar on important issues. His ability to work across party lines to get legislation passed will make Kerry a strong pick to be the nation’s top diplomat. Jack Lew also makes sense as the successor to Timothy Geithner as secretary of the treasury. Before becoming President Obama’s chief of staff, Lew was director of the Office of Management and Budget; before that, he was successful working with President Clinton on fiscal policy.
There are many qualified people of both parties who would make a superb secretary of defense and further the interests of the United States. Sen. Hagel is not one of those people.