Defense secretary nominee Chuck Hagel claimed he “has never been accused of political expediency” during his Thursday hearing before the Senate Armed Services committee, in response to his comments on the “Jewish lobby.”
“So when you talked about the Jewish lobby, were you talking about AIPAC? Were you talking about NORPAC? Were you talking about Christians United for Israel?” Sen. Roger Wicker (R., Miss.) asked Hagel. “And, do you still believe that their success in this town is because of intimidation and they are, as you stated, that they are urging upon our government that we do dumb things?”
“Well, first, I have never been accused of political expediency,” Hagel responded.
Sen. James Inhofe (R., Okla.), in fact, accused Hagel of just that earlier in the Senate hearing Thursday.
“(Hagel’s) record demonstrates what I view as a lack of sound judgment and steadfast support for policies that diminish U.S. power and influence throughout the world, as well as a recent trend of policy reversals that seem based on political expediency rather than core beliefs,” Inhofe said in his opening remarks.
The Daily Beast’s Eli Lake reported earlier this month on Hagel’s history of “changing his mind” on critical and political policies:
While Hagel did not endorse Obama in 2008, he did at times advise the campaign on foreign policy. He also traveled with the candidate on a trip to the Middle East. In 2007 and 2008 in the Senate, Hagel also declined to support unilateral sanctions against Iran.
In 2009 Hagel retired from the Senate and was named a co-chairman of the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. He also became chairman of the Atlantic Council, a perch he used to speak out in favor of engagement with Iran, and he signed a letter urging President Obama to encourage Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to form a unity government with Hamas, which the U.S. has designated a terrorist group and which is the de facto sovereign of Gaza.
It’s these positions that have earned Hagel praise from his new friends and criticism from many in his old party. But just as the Vietnam War veteran was able to adjust his worldview in 2005 and 2006, he appears to be adjusting it again in 2013. On Wednesday the Associated Press reported that Hagel, in private meetings with senior Pentagon officials, expressed his support for strong international sanctions against Iran as well as for leaving the option of military strikes on the table.
It remains to be seen whether these new positions are enough to persuade his old colleagues like McCain to confirm his nomination as secretary of defense. The one thing his old party does know, however, is that Chuck Hagel is a man who is not afraid to change his mind.