President Obama has nominated former U.S. Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska to be our next secretary of defense. While there are many positions in the administration that would suit Chuck Hagel, his views on national security are repeatedly wrong and, if successful, this nomination would send the wrong message to our enemies and have very dangerous consequences for our country. We must work to defeat him.
The United States secretary of defense is entrusted with the most critical responsibility of the federal government: to keep Americans safe from threats abroad. And I believe there is no greater threat to our security than Iran, and even more so a nuclear Iran. I oppose Chuck Hagel for the same reason I voted against Robert Gates: Their views on Iran and radical Islam are weaker than the president who nominated them. Both had records of wanting to reach out instead of stopping Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, and Sen. Hagel went so far as to imprudently take essential leverage against Iran, a military strike, off the table, something even the president has been unwilling to do to date. But Hagel will be on the national security team to determine such policy, and the last thing America and our friends in the Middle East need is someone weaker on radical Islam and more hostile to Israel than the already weak and hostile president.
Unfortunately, Sen. Hagel's long history of pandering to Iran, supporting further cuts to our military and turning his back on our ally, Israel, are exactly the wrong positions we need in a time of great global instability and emerging deadly threats. The basic question Americans must ask is this: Is Chuck Hagel the right person to keep Americans safe? In my view, the answer is emphatically "no."
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To begin with, it has been well established that Iran is the primary sponsor of global terrorism and is a growing nuclear threat. The openly anti-American Iranian regime is the greatest single threat to our safety in the world today. Yet time and time again, Chuck Hagel has chosen to ignore this. While a senator in 2007, he voted against an important bill that would have labeled the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps a terrorist organization. This came at a time when the IRGC was providing weapons, training and financing to those killing Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan. He also urged the Bush administration to pursue "direct, unconditional and comprehensive talks with the government of Iran" and repeatedly voted against sanctions. And Hagel has ruled out using military options against Iran. Last week, the Iranian regime welcomed Hagel's nomination, stating that it could help diplomatic relations. This can only be because he has repeatedly failed to support policies that oppose the threat and nuclear ambition of our top national security threat – the Iranian regime and radical Islam.
As I wrote in this space last week, the looming cuts to our military are sure to leave our national defense badly weakened and exposed to very frightening and real threats like an EMP attack, for example, that would threaten the lives of many million Americans. Our current secretary of defense, Leon Panetta, has very fervently opposed these cuts. Chuck Hagel, however, supports defense budget cuts and believes in a "pared down Pentagon." This view is aligned with the position of President Obama, who very clearly wants to continue to cut defense spending as he builds an even bigger, European-like welfare state. This is not the time to cut back on the resources we need to keep America safe, and a defense secretary who will so easily agree to the president's view is not acceptable.
Our greatest ally in the unstable and increasingly anti-American Middle East is Israel. It is a strategic defense relationship and one that must be protected – especially now, given what's happening in Egypt, Syria and Iran. But Chuck Hagel has a long history of turning his back on this ally.
When Palestinian suicide bombers were blasting Israelis to pieces in 2002, Hagel wrote in an op-ed article that this was the time for Israel to "take steps to show its commitment to peace." At the beginning of the Palestinian uprising (Second Intifada), in which an estimated 4,000 people died, Hagel refused to sign a letter supporting Israel. In 2006, he made a reference to the "Jewish lobby" and the "dumb things they do," blatant insensitivity that undermines the fact that Americans of all ethnicities and varied faiths stand behind Israel as a true democracy that enhances our national security. And Hagel has supported direct talks with Hamas, a designated terrorist organization that pledges to destroy the state of Israel. During conflicts between Israel and Hezbollah forces in Lebanon, Hagel refused to write the EU asking it to declare Hezbollah a terrorist organization.
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One of the few areas left of truly bipartisan cooperation is on national security issues related to a nuclear Iran, radical Islamic terrorists and the state of Israel, and it is not because of the "Jewish lobby." Since 9/11, numerous bills have passed the Senate dealing with the Middle East with members on the left and right as sponsors. I personally sponsored major legislation on Iran and Syria with Barbara Boxer as the lead Democrat sponsor. Talk about an otherwise odd couple. But not on these issues. There was, and is, a broad consensus. Chuck Hagel is, and has been, far outside that consensus.
I say to my former colleagues: I don't lightly oppose a Cabinet nominee, but you know this is no ordinary time in the Middle East, and this vote will have more ramifications for our friends and our foes than any vote on any past bill. This vote will send a signal that President Obama has successfully fractured the most enduring, sincere, bipartisan coalition in decades. Don't put loyalty to party and president in front of your duty to protect our country. Vote no on Hagel.