Former Senator Chuck Hagel (R–NE) repeatedly fumbled his responses on important Middle East security questions at his confirmation hearing this week.
He sought to sidestep Senator John McCain’s (R–AZ) question about whether the surge of U.S.troops in Iraq succeeded. Although he had opposed the troop surge and denounced it at the time as the “most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam,” he replied weakly that “I’ll defer that judgment to history.” McCain bristled and shot back: “I think history has already made a judgment about the surge, sir, and you’re on the wrong side of it.”
Hagel is also on the wrong side of history when it comes to Iran. He remains committed to unconditional engagement with a regime that has contemptuously spurned the efforts of the Obama Administration to engage it in negotiations over the last four years. It would have been interesting to hear him answer a question about why the Administration’s engagement policy has failed to yield results.
Hagel also stumbled in replying to a question on Iran by Senator Saxby Chambliss (R–GA): “I support the President’s strong position on containment, as I have said.” Later, though, he was passed a note from an aide and offered a correction: “I misspoke and said I supported the President’s position on containment. If I said that, I meant to say we don’t have a position on containment.” Senator Carl Levin (D–MI) corrected him, saying, “We do have a position on containment, and that is we do not favor containment.” Levin added: “I just wanted to clarify the clarify.”
It is disturbing that the nominee not only misstated his own position but also apparently fails to grasp the Administration’s stand on such an important issue. Preventing Iran from attaining a nuclear weapon is clearly preferable to the difficult and risky policy of trying to contain a nuclear Iran.
Hagel also stumbled badly in response to a question about why he voted against designating Iran’s Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist organization. Despite its long and well-documented involvement in terrorist attacks, Hagel maintained that it would be a mistake to single out a branch of “an elected, legitimate government.”
Although he subsequently admitted that he should have said “recognized” rather than “legitimate,” the fact that he mistakenly sees the dictatorship in Tehran as an elected government and glosses over the baleful role of the Revolutionary Guards in orchestrating terrorism raises serious questions about his judgment and knowledge about Iran.