Cornyn Rips Hagel on the Senate Floor

Texas senator: Hagel nomination has 'already done damage to the security of the United States'


JOHN CORNYN: Mr. president, the nomination of Chuck Hagel to be the next Secretary of Defense has already done damage to the United States’ credibility in its attempt to deny Iran a nuclear weapon, thus emboldening one of the most dangerous regimes in the Middle East. To limit that damage, President Obama should choose someone else to lead the Pentagon. After all, the Nebraska senator is the same person who has consistently opposed sanctions against Iran. He’s the same person who wanted Washington to support Iranian membership in the World Trade Organization. He’s the same person who voted against designating the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist group at a time when it was orchestrating the murder of U.S. troops in Iraq. He’s the same person who refused to sign a letter asking the European Union to label Hezbollah – an Iranian proxy – as a terror group, even though it is so designated by the United States State Department. He is the same person who urged President Bush to offer Iran — quote — “direct, unconditional, and comprehensive talks.” Close quote. He’s the same person who called for establishing a United States diplomatic mission in Tehran. He’s the same person who dismissed — quote — “a military strike against Iran” as — quote — “not a viable, feasible, responsible option.” And he’s the same person who suggested that the United States might be able to live with a nuclear Iran. During his years in this chamber, Senator Hagel’s opposition to Iran’s sanctions placed him in a very, very small minority. For example, only one other senator had joined him in voting against sanctions in 2001 and only one other Senate Banking Committee member joined him in rejecting a different sanctions package in 2008. Simply put, Senator Hagel has no credibility on perhaps the biggest foreign policy challenge facing the Obama Administration’s second term and on American national security interests in the Middle East and around the world. Consider how his nomination was interpreted by Iranian journalists and government officials: “Press TV” at Tehran-based propaganda network noted with satisfaction that Senator Hagel is known for his criticism of Washington anti-Iran policies and has consistently opposed any plan to launch a military strike against Iran. The point is not that we should be threatening military strikes against Iran but to take this off the table entirely, completely undercuts any diplomatic efforts we might take to deny Iran a nuclear weapon. Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Iranian foreign minister responded to the Hagel announcement by declaring — quote — “we hope that practical changes will be create in the U.S. foreign policy and that the U.S. officials will favor peace instead of warmongering.” The Iranians are claiming that we’re the ones warmongering, while they are building a nuclear weapon. Just for good measure, the Al Jazeera website published an article “Obama defeats the Israel lobby.” Is this really the impression we want to give our adversaries and our allies in the Middle East? Is this how we encourage our friends to say we will be there to support our allies? Is this the message we want to convey to our adversaries, like Iran, who have threatened the annihilation of Israel, to wipe it off the map? Unfortunately, that’s the message that’s conveyed by a nomination of Senator Hagel as Secretary of Defense. Not only has Senator Hagel been a persistent critic of Iran’s sanctions, he’s also displayed a stubborn hostility to America’s closest Middle Eastern ally. In October 2000 shortly after Yasser Arafat launch a second intifada, 96 U.S. senators signed a letter to President Clinton affirming their solidarity with Israel. Senator Hagel was not among them. Six months later, after a relentless onslaught of Palestinian terrorism, 87 senators signed a different letter asking President Bush to initiate reassessment of our relationship with the Palestinians. Once again, Senator Hagel refused to sign. He also refused to join 89 other senators in signing a 2001 — November 2001 letter that urged President Bush to maintain strong support for Israel and to continue snubbing Arafat until the Palestinian leader ended his terror campaign. On April 12, 2002, a Palestinian suicide bomber killed six people and injured more than 100 ears in Jerusalem. That same day Senator Hagel went to the Senate floor and suggested a moral equivalence between Palestinian terrorism and Israeli self-defense. Three months later, he published an article in the Washington Post bemoaning the endless cycle of violence and declaring that Israel must take steps to show its commitment to peace. In a 2003 interview with the local newspaper in Lincoln, Nebraska, Senator Hagel ratchet ratcheted up his rhetoric even further saying the Israelis keep Palestinians caged up like animals. In 2009, Senator Hagel coauthored a policy paper that advised President Obama to pursue a dialogue with Hamas. Again, a State Department-designated terrorist organization, with Iran as their primary — Iran’s primary proxy in the area. More specifically, the paper recommended that Washington — quote — “offer Hamas inducements that will enable it to be more moderate — its more moderate elements to prevail. And cease discouraging third parties from engaging with Hamas in ways that might help clarify the movement’s views, and test its behavior.” Most of us believe, including the United States State Department, that Hamas’ views and behavior are already clear enough. It’s committed to the annihilation of Israel. It fires rockets and Iranian-made missiles at civilian areas. It indoctrinates Palestinian children in a culture of hatred and violence. Of course, Senator Hagel’s most famous comments – or I should say infamous comments on Israel were delivered during a 2006 interview with former Clinton Administration official Aaron David Miller. In that interview Senator Hagel said “the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here.” These remarks are deeply offensive. But they’re also quite revealing, for they confirm that he simply does not understand the true basis of the U.S.-Israel alliance. The American people and their elected representatives support Israel for obvious reasons. Both of our countries are pluralistic democracies with a shared commitment to liberty, equality, and basic human rights. Both of our countries are threatened by radical Islam. And both of our countries have responded to that threat while remaining free and open societies. In other words, we have an alliance based on shared values and a common determination to defend liberal democracy against terrorists and dictators alike. I realize that Senator Hagel is now repudiating many of his past actions and statements. But we’ve seen this before, unfortunately, individuals approaching the confirmation process, undergoing a seeming transformation. But this sudden and convenient transformation beggars belief. Senator Hagel has not undergone an abrupt ideological makeover. He just wants to win approval from members of this chamber in what we might call a “confirmation conversion.” Mr. president, I yield the floor, and I suggest the absence of a quorum.