Even worse is Sen. Hagel’s performance since being nominated for secretary of Defense. Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee, he bungled the critical issue of the Obama administration’s policy on a nuclear Iran. At first he claimed that the administration had a policy of “containment” (which implies trying to stop an already-nuclear Iran, rather than preventing Iran from having a nuclear weapons capability in the first place). After receiving a note from his entourage, he tried to correct himself but failed, stating that the administration had no policy on containment. Finally, Sen. Carl Levin, the committee’s chairman, stepped in to rescue Sen. Hagel, stating that the Obama administration was opposed to containment. But Sen. Hagel made a further jaw-dropping statement on Iran, justifying his vote against designating the Iranian Revolutionary Guards as a foreign terrorist organization by claiming the repressive, theocratic Iranian regime is “an elected, legitimate government, whether we agree or not.” When questioned about this statement, Sen. Hagel said what he meant to say was that the Iranian regime was “recognized.” But his original statement was no mistake—in his 2008 book, Sen. Hagel decried “America’s refusal to recognize Iran’s status as a legitimate power.”
The rest of Sen. Hagel’s hearing went no better. As Reuters columnist Steven Brill wrote, Sen. Hagel “seemed not to understand even the basics of the Pentagon budget and the effects of the looming sequestration of a portion of its appropriated funding.” He claimed that as Secretary of Defense, “I won’t be in a policy-making position.” He could not defend or even clearly explain many of his past extreme statements, except to say that he regretted them and wished he could “go back and edit” his comments. But Sen. Hagel’s extreme views cannot be explained away as mere rhetorical gaffes. The problem is not only the style but the radical substance of Sen. Hagel’s statements, including that Israel “keep[s] Palestinians caged up like animals;” that “[t]he political reality… is that the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here;” and that “it is an inhibiting factor to be gay—openly aggressively gay… to do an effective job.”
Here, then, is the real professional record of Chuck Hagel, aside from his distinguished military service: Insufficient management experience; limited accomplishments; botched performances; and extreme views.
If not for partisan politics, Chuck Hagel would stand little chance of becoming Defense Secretary. Many Democrats would never support such a nominee unless he was nominated by a Democratic president. And some of Sen. Hagel’s supporters seem to back him primarily out of opposition to, or anger at, some of Sen. Hagel’s right-wing opponents and their tactics.
But the security of the United States is too important for partisan politics. And the American people — including the millions of Americans who serve in our nation’s Armed Forces — don’t really care about partisanship. They don’t care if Chuck Hagel is a Republican or if the president who nominated him is a Democrat. They don’t care who opposes Chuck Hagel and what tactics they use.
The American people just want to make sure that the right person is in charge of the Department of Defense. And as recent public opinion surveys indicate, the more that Americans — be they Democrats, Republicans, or independents — learn about Sen. Hagel, the more they oppose his nomination, because Sen. Hagel’s record falls so far short.
So when the time comes to vote, each and every U.S. senator needs to put politics and partisanship aside and ask themselves one question: Would you hire a man with Chuck Hagel’s record to run your country’s military — to keep your nation secure? If not, then the Senate must not confirm Sen. Hagel for secretary of Defense.
Goldsmith is a national security professional in Washington, D.C. He currently serves as the senior writer for Americans for a Strong Defense, and served as a professional staff member for the House Foreign Affairs Committee from 2007 to 2013.