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USA Today - No Hagel for Defense

Op-Ed

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By Senator John Barrasso

Former senator Chuck Hagel's weak and wobbly appearance before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday has made it impossible for me to support his nomination as Defense secretary.

Opposing a president's nominee is not something I take lightly. President Obama has the prerogative to select who he wants to carry out his policies.

Senators have an equally important constitutional role to advise and consent. That means vigorously opposing the president's choice when the nominee does not have the proper judgment for the job.

While the secretary of Defense takes orders from the president, he also advises the president. My concerns with Hagel stem from his views on policies related to Iran, Iraq, Israel and America's nuclear defense. His past errors in judgment on these issues raise serious concerns about the military advice he might give.

On Thursday, Hagel tried to distance himself from some of his past positions. He did the same thing when I met with him last month. I have to rely on his record.

For example, he has signed on to the cause of a group called Global Zero, which seeks to eliminate all nuclear weapons. He even co-authored a report for the group that recommended the elimination of America's land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles.

The report stressed that we could negotiate these reductions with Russia, or they could be "implemented unilaterally." Given the wide range of threats we face around the world, it would be an extremely risky move to disarm -- especially unilaterally.

He told the committee that his report was not a recommendation but an "illustration." I find that to be a distinction without a difference, since the report specifically says it "recommend(s)" a warhead limit for the United States.

As a senator, he also opposed sanctions against Iran, saying: "The worst thing we can do would be to try to isolate Iran." He said recently that unilateral sanctions don't work, but also that more unilateral sanctions may be needed. His testimony before the committee did nothing to clarify the contradiction of these two opinions and left me unclear on exactly where he stands and whether he would support future sanctions against Iran.

At his hearing, Hagel also doubled down on one of his worst failures of judgment. In 2007, he said the troop surge in Iraq was "the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam." Even with six years of hindsight, he refuses to accept that the surge worked and brought stability to the war.

I respect Hagel's service to our country, but I cannot support his nomination to be secretary of Defense. There are too many real concerns about his judgment and the national security advice he would give the president.

Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.


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