In 1998, Chuck Hagel attempted to block the appointment of James Hormel as ambassador to Luxemburg on the grounds that Hormel was “openly and aggressively gay.” Fourteen years later, on the heels of his own political appointment as Department of Defense (DOD) chief, Hagel issued an apology to Hormel calling his remarks “insensitive” and not reflective of his current views on LGBT issues. Of course the timing of Hagel’s “apology” was impeccable. One could even say expedient and likely done not on his own initiative but at the behest of the White House. But Hagel’s sudden reversal on gay issues is but one of a number of recent Hagel retractions.
At his recent confirmation hearings, Hagel reversed himself on nearly every past position he had so staunchly held. On nuclear weapons, Hagel had co-authored an article where he advocated unilateral reduction in ground-based ICBMs and the elimination of tactical nuclear weapons. Under intense questing from Senator Deb Fischer, Hagel performed an about-face and maintained that he only favored bilateral reductions. This current Hagel position is diametrically opposed to positions that Hagel had previously held and committed himself to in past articles.
On Iran, Hagel is on record as stating that the military option is not a “viable, feasible or responsible option.” However, under questioning from Committee member Kelly Ayotte, Hagel again reversed himself, claiming that what he meant to say was that the military option was not the “preferable option.” The two positions are clearly incongruent and represent diametrically opposed viewpoints, but like a chameleon that changes colors in reaction to external stimuli, Hagel alters and modifies his positions to whatever he thinks his target audience wants to hear.
Consider his earlier positions on Iranian sanctions. His senate record reflects that he opposed them but at the hearings, he voiced support for them. Hagel tried to explain the apparent inconsistency by claiming that he had only opposed unilateral sanctions because he thought that these were ineffective and only served to isolate the United States. At the hearings, he voiced his support for all sanctions without regard for their unilateral or multilateral nature representing yet another about-face.
But as Senator Lindsey Graham so adeptly pointed out, Hagel, the supposed champion of multilateralism, refused to act in that spirit when it came to dealing with Iran’s proxy militia, Hezbollah. In 2006, eighty-eight senators signed a letter addressed to the EU asking it to designate Hezbollah a terrorist organization. This multilateral approach to dealing with international terror was rejected by Hagel, who was one of only twelve senators who refused to sign the letter. Apparently, Hagel champions the multilateral approach when it suits his fringe political views like buttressing the Islamic Republic, but disfavors this approach when Israel is the ancillary beneficiary.
On Hagel’s now infamous “Jewish Lobby” remark whereby he accused pro-Israel groups of “intimidating” Congress into doing “dumb things,” Hagel acknowledged that he should not have used the term “Jewish Lobby.” Under further questioning, he stated that “I should have used ‘influence’” rather than “intimidation” and when stymied by his inability to name a single representative or policy decision influenced by pro-Israel lobbying efforts, Hagel retracted the unsubstantiated comment in its entirety.
When asked by Senator Mike Lee about a 2003 remark in which he stated that Israel was keeping the Palestinians “caged up like animals,” Hagel offered further retraction and stated, "If I had the opportunity to edit that, like many things I’ve said, I would like to go back and change the words and meaning." He added, "I regret using those choice of words."
Though the hearings portrayed a man who appeared to be dimwitted and buffoonish, Hagel is no buffoon. He is a man who chooses his words carefully and his record in the Senate as well as his post-Senate years portray an individual whose policies and views are anything but inconsistent. On Iran, Israel, nuclear disarmament and a host of other issues concerning national security, Hagel has consistently been on the wrong side of the fence and on the marginal fringes of mainstream political discourse. Hagel’s recent plethora of recantations suggests a man weak in principle, ethics and morals. Alternatively, they are indicative of a nefarious, serial liar willing to say or do anything to attain his political or personal objective. Either way, the nation can ill afford to entrust such a personality with our national defense and the Senate should reject his nomination without reservation or equivocation.
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