By Jeremy Herb
Former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) says he will focus on making sure the U.S. military is prepared for any scenario in Iran and is committed to “all options” to counter aggression from Tehran.
Hagel also said he agrees with President Obama’s plans for “steady” reductions of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, supports U.S. aid for missile systems in Israel and thinks sequester would be “devastating,” according to wide-ranging policy answers the nominee for Defense secretary submitted to the Senate Armed Services Committee.
His advance responses to the panel’s policy questions shed light on what Hagel will say at the hearing, when he will face a pointed examination from senators who are opposed to or have raised concerns about his nomination.
Lawmakers and outside groups have raised concerns about Hagel’s positions and past statements on Israel, Iran, gay rights and the size of the Pentagon budget, all of which will be raised during his confirmation hearing.
In his responses to the committee Hagel took positions that were — not surprisingly — aligned with the Obama administration.
Hagel says he is “committed to considering all options to counter Iran and its aggression.”
“While there is time and space for diplomacy, backed by pressure, the window is closing,” Hagel said, using language that mimics what Obama has said. “If confirmed, I will focus intently on ensuring that U.S. military is in fact prepared for any contingency.”
He also said that he supported sanctions against Iran if it continues to “flout its international obligations.” Hagel has faced criticism for opposing unilateral U.S. sanctions against Tehran in the past.
Hagel said that he is in favor of maintaining “U.S. support for missile defense systems in Israel.” His views on Israel will be one of the most-heated topics at the confirmation hearing, as he has been criticized for saying the “Jewish lobby” intimidates people in Washington.
“I am proud of the work that the United States has done in support of the ballistic missile defense of Israel and, if confirmed, I will continue to support these efforts,” Hagel said.
Hagel’s answers also touched on the criticism he faced over gay rights, after his comments in 1998 about an “aggressively gay” diplomatic nominee surfaced last month.
Hagel said he fully supports the repeal of “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” and is committed to its full implementation.
When it comes to the drawdown in Afghanistan, Hagel was less clear, saying that he did not yet have access to the “relevant analysis” to give a position on troop levels through 2014 and beyond.
He did say he supported Obama’s decision for “steady” reductions, although the president has not yet given any concrete numbers. Military officials have made recommendations to the White House, which plans to make a decision soon.
Hagel also said he agreed with the administration that the United States should continue to provide non-lethal aid in Syria, but he did not think the United States should give “lethal support” to opposition groups seeking the ouster of President Bashar al-Assad, something defense hawks in Congress have called for.
Hagel said he had the same view as current Defense Secretary Leon Panetta that the across-the-board cuts under sequestration would be “devastating.”
But Hagel said that the current $487 billion in reductions the Pentagon has already budgeted over the next decade were achievable.
“Based on my review to date, my answer is yes. I believe the Department’s strategy can be accomplished within the constraints of the Budget Control Act,” Hagel said. “But only if the Department has to retain the flexibility to adjust the size of its forces and infrastructure, and take steps to control its costs, in accordance with the Administration’s present strategy and budget.”