News Column

McCain Grills Hagel on Past Positions

Jan. 31, 2013
Sen. John McCain
Sen. John McCain

Sen. John McCain rapid fired hostile questions at former Sen. Chuck Hagel as a Senate panel considers Hagel's nomination as U.S. defense secretary.

After calling Hagel his "old friend," McCain, R-Ariz., repeatedly tried to get Hagel to answer yes or no about opposition to the surge of troops in Iraq during the Bush administration. In 2007, President George W. Bush sent an extra 20,000 troops to Iraq to stabilize the U.S. intervention in that country.

When Hagel tried to explain his position, McCain shot back, "Will you please answer the question?"

Hagel confirmed he thought what he called the "war of choice" in Iraq was the "most disastrous since Vietnam."

Hagel told McCain, "I would defer to the judgment of history" on the surge.

McCain insisted history already had judged the wisdom of the surge, and Hagel was wrong.

Also, McCain tried to get Hagel to say whether he supported giving U.S. weapons to the Syrian opposition and establishing a no-fly zone.

Hagel said the United States was looking at those options, but McCain said 60,000 people already have died in the Syrian civil war -- "How many more would have to die before you would support" those actions.

McCain said what he considered Hagel's refusal to answer yes or no to his questions would influence whether the would vote to confirm Hagel, leaving no doubt that at this time the answer was negative.

McCain, the Republican presidential nominee in 2008, said Republicans had concerns about Hagel's "professional judgment."

In his opening statement, Hagel said he is committed to keeping Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.

Hagel told the Senate Armed Services Committee he agrees with all of President Obama's positions on national security, including Iran.

"I am committed to the president's goal of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon," Hagel said, adding all options were on the table. He said the president's policy was prevention, not containment of Iran, and he would make sure the Defense Department was prepared for all contingencies.

Among the goals he shares with the president, Hagel said, is continued U.S. counter-terrorism in Afghanistan and training that country's security forces, and to keep the pressure up on terror groups in the Middle East and North Africa.

He said he and the president are committed to keeping Israel's "edge" in military affairs in the region.

Also, "I am committed to maintaining ... a strong nuclear arsenal," he said. "I am committed to modernizing our nuclear arsenal."

Hagel told the senators that massive spending cuts in a "sequester" would be a disaster for the Pentagon.

Before Hagel's opening statement, the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee indicated he would not support Hagel as defense secretary.

Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., said he told Hagel "after a long and careful review, we're too philosophically opposed, and therefore I would not be supporting his nomination."

Inhofe said "Sen. Hagel's record is troubling and out of the mainstream," and his record is one of "appeasing our enemies and shunning our friends."

Hagel was introduced to the panel by two former chairman of the committee, former Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Ga., and former Sen. John Warner, R-Va.. Nunn cited Hagel's service in Vietnam and his two purple hearts, and strongly endorsed him. "War for Chuck Hagel is not an abstraction," he said.

Warner said he would only say "a few words from the heart," adding he had read Hagel's statement to the committee, which he said outlines Hagel's precise goals. Warner said Hagel "took the point" as an infantry sergeant in Vietnam, and as defense secretary, "Chuck Hagel will do it again."

If confirmed, Hagel would be the first Vietnam veteran to head the Pentagon.

As a senator, Hagel broke with many in his party on the Foreign Relations Committee to criticize the management of the Iraq war after initially supporting the U.S.-led invasion.

Hagel will need 51 votes to win confirmation, unless Republicans threaten to filibuster. That could trigger a rule requiring 60 votes.

Source: Copyright United Press International 2013

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