Former Republican Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel said the American military campaign in Iraq was solely about securing oil, according to remarks he made in 2007 before law students at Catholic University.
"People say we're not fighting for oil. Of course we are," said Hagel, who is reported to be President Barack Obama’s pick to head the Defense Department.
"They talk about America's national interest," Hagel said during the 2007 speech, according to a report in Foreign Policy in Focus. "What the hell do you think they're talking about? We're not there for figs."
Hagel's controversial comments could come under scrutiny by senators on Capitol Hill should he be nominated for the Pentagon’s top post. Experts predict that Hagel would have a tough time securing enough votes to be confirmed to the job.
Lawmakers and members of the Jewish community have criticized Hagel for what they say are his controversial foreign policy views, which include sharp criticism of Israel and the Iraq war.
Jewish community leaders have expressed concern over Hagel’s comments about the so-called "Jewish lobby," as well as his efforts in the late 1980s to shutter a popular USO port located in the Israeli city of Haifa.
Hagel is said to have told Jewish leaders during a 1989 meeting about funding for the USO port: "Let the Jews pay for it."