At the end of his opening statement during Thursday’s confirmation hearing for defense secretary nominee Chuck Hagel, Sen. Carl Levin (D., Mich.) brought up Hagel’s past statements opposing unilateral sanctions against Iran and controversial remarks about Israel:
LEVIN: Those of us who have served with Sen. Hagel in the Senate know that he is a man who was not afraid to speak his mind. Sen. Hagel has made a number of statements over the course of his career which committee members will ask him about during today’s hearing. For example, Sen. Hagel has stated that unilateral sanctions against Iran, “are exactly the wrong approach,” and that “the worst thing we could do would be to try to isolate Iran.” I believe that while effective multilateral sanctions are preferable, unilateral sanctions are an important part of the approach that the Obama administration has followed and Congress has supported, and it appears that sanctions are producing tremendous pressure on Iran.
Another statement which has raised concern is Sen. Hagel’s recommendation that we conduct, “direct, unconditional, and comprehensive talks with the government of Iran.” Now, while there is value in communicating with our adversaries, the formulation used by Sen. Hagel seemed to imply a willingness to talk to Iran on some issues that I believe most of us would view as non-negotiable, and any willingness to talk to Iran would need to be highly conditional. Sen. Hagel’s reassurance to me and my office that he supports the Obama administration’s strong stance against Iran is significant. We look forward to hearing from Sen. Hagel today in some depth on that subject. We will also be interested in hearing Sen. Hagel’s statement on the public statements he has made on Israel and the United States, that our policy of non-engagement with the Syrians as, “isolated us more than the Syrians,” and a 2009 statement that “we should not isolate Hamas,” a terrorist organization.
There is much to be explored at this hearing. But as we struggle with the difficult security challenges facing our nation, the president needs to have a secretary of defense in whom he has trust, who will give him unvarnished advice, a person of integrity, and one who has a personal understanding of the consequences of decisions relative to the use of military force. Sen. Hagel certainly has those critically important qualifications to lead the Department of Defense.