WASHINGTON – Chuck Hagel, President Barack Obama's nominee for defense secretary, sparred Thursday with members of the Senate Armed Services Committee over his record on a variety of national security issues. Below is a summary of his past and current statements on Iran, nuclear weapons, and other key topics.
IRAN: In the past, Hagel questioned the effectiveness of unilateral sanctions that the United States has imposed against Iran, arguing that penalties in conjunction with international partners made more sense. "I just don't think the unilateral approach and giving war speeches helps the situation," Hagel said in October 2007. "It will just drive the Iranians closer together."
During his confirmation hearing, Hagel took a hardline on Iran that echoed the Obama administration's position, but also defended his voting record on Iran during two terms as a U.S. senator. "When I voted against some of those unilateral sanctions on Iran, it was a different time," Hagel told the committee. "For example, I believe, one was in 2001, 2002. We were at a different place with Iran during that time."
The George W. Bush administration didn't even want to renew sanctions against Iran a decade ago because it wasn't sure they would work, Hagel added. "That wasn't the only reason I voted against it," he said. "It was because I thought there might be other ways to employ our vast ability to harness power and allies. It was never a question of, 'Did I disagree with the objective.'"
NUCLEAR WEAPONS: Hagel co-authored a study by the advocacy group Global Zero that called for an 80 percent reduction of U.S. nuclear weapons and the elimination of all nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missiles. "Getting to global zero will take years," Hagel wrote in a March 2009 letter to Obama on behalf of the group. "So it is important that we set our course toward a world without nuclear weapons now to ensure that our children do not live under the nuclear shadow of the last century."
Republicans in Congress said Hagel's affiliation with the group was cause for concern because it suggested his views on nuclear weapons were markedly different from previous defense secretaries.
At Thursday's hearing, Hagel said he's never advocated making unilateral reductions in the size of the U.S. nuclear arsenal. He described Global Zero's recommendations as "illustrative possibilities."
"A strong, agile, safe, secure, effective nuclear arsenal for the United States is not debatable," Hagel said. "This prospective secretary of defense would never do anything or in any way take any action that would minimize or harm or downgrade that reality."
ISRAEL: Hagel made waves several years ago by referring to pro-Israeli Americans as "the Jewish lobby" and suggesting they wield undue power in Washington. "The Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people," Hagel said in a 2006 interview with former Mideast peace negotiator and author Aaron David Miller. "I've always argued against some of the dumb things they do, because I don't think it's in the interest of Israel."
Hagel told the committee that he always been a strong supporter of Israel and that he regretted using the term "Jewish lobby" as well as the words "intimidates" and "dumb."
"I've always said I'm a supporter of Israel," Hagel said. "In some case, I've said I'm a strong supporter of Israel. In some cases, I've even written, and I think it's in my book, that we have a special relationship with Israel. We always have had."
IRAQ: Hagel initially supported the Iraq war, but later opposed some of Bush administration's decisions, including the "surge" of 30,000 more U.S. troops to quell increasing violence in the country. Hagel called the surge "the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam."
Hagel told the committee he stood by his comments. "So I did question a surge," Hagel said. "I always ask the question, 'Is this going to be worth the sacrifice?' Because there will be sacrifices. In the surge case in Iraq, we lost almost 1,200 dead Americans during that surge, and thousands of wounded. Now, was it required? Was it necessary?"