When former Senator Chuck Hagel appears before the Senate Armed Services Committee to clarify why he deserves to be the next secretary of defense, he will be facing an awful lot of tough questions.
There is no doubt that Hagel has superb military credentials. A decorated Vietnam War veteran who was wounded in battle, he would be the first enlisted soldier to head the Pentagon. But as impressive as his military background is, his record as senator is deeply disturbing — as the following examples indicate:
In 1999, when the American Jewish Committee asked members of the Senate to sign a letter to then-Russian President Boris Yeltsin urging action against rising anti-Semitism, 99 senators agreed to affix their names. Only Chuck Hagel declined.
In 2001, Hagel was one of only 11 senators who refused to sign a letter urging President Bush not to meet with terror chieftain Yasser Arafat until his forces ended their violence against Israel.
In 2006, when Israeli troops fought back against Hizbullah after the Lebanese terrorist group killed IDF soldiers and fired rockets at Israeli civilians, Hagel said: “This madness must stop,” and accused Israel of “the systematic destruction of an American friend — the country and people of Lebanon.”
Hagel was also one of only 12 senators who refused to write the EU asking them to declare Hizbullah a terrorist organization.
In 2007, Hagel was one of only 4 senators who refused to sign a Senate letter in support of Israel.
In 2008, during an interview with author Aaron David Miller, Hagel said: “The political reality is that … the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here … 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 has also been strongly criticized for seeking direct negotiations with Iran over its disputed nuclear program and sometimes opposing sanctions against Iran and for calling for negotiations with Hamas.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) declared that if confirmed, Hagel “would be the most antagonistic secretary of defense toward the state of Israel in our nation’s history.” This is a particularly high bar to surpass, as former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger is particularly infamous for what has been described by his top deputy as having a “visceral hatred” towards Israel.
Hagel tried to quiet his critics on Monday, telling the Lincoln Journal Star in Nebraska that there is “not one shred of evidence that I’m anti-Israeli, not one [Senate] vote that matters that hurt Israel.”
During the upcoming hearings, Hagel will have to explain how this broad statement doesn’t contradict his long record. More than anything else, he will have to convince a wary Senate that his past statements and voting pattern will not define the future relationship between the Pentagon and Israel.
The White House spokesperson insists that Hagel “has been a staunch supporter of Israel, of the Israeli-American relationship, of the United States’ support for Israel’s security throughout his career,” and that the Obama administration has “overseen the closest, most substantial support for Israel’s defense of any administration in history…
“That is a policy that will continue under President Obama with all the members of his national security team,” Press Secretary Jay Carney says.
It is now up to Chuck Hagel to prove at the Senate hearings that these are not merely hollow assurances.