The committee meets today to consider the nomination of former Senator Chuck Hagel to serve as the next Secretary of Defense. We received Senator Hagel's nomination three weeks ago and we held a hearing on the nomination 12 days ago. Senator Hagel has provided the personal and financial information required by the committee, and he has received letters from the Director of the Office of Government Ethics and the Acting DOD General Counsel certifying that he meets our ethics and conflict of interest standards. He has responded to our advance policy questions and our questions for the record. For these reasons, I believe that the time has come for the committee to act on this nomination.
Despite efforts of some to portray him as "outside the mainstream" of American foreign policy, Senator Hagel has received broad support from a wide array of senior statesmen and defense and foreign policy organizations.
At our January 31 nomination hearing, Senator Hagel was enthusiastically introduced and endorsed by two former Chairmen of our committee: Sam Nunn and John Warner. Senator Hagel's nomination has been endorsed by five former Secretaries of Defense who served under both Democratic and Republican Presidents: Bob Gates, Bill Cohen, William Perry, Harold Brown, and Melvyn Laird. He has been endorsed by three former Secretaries of State and by six former National Security Advisors. He has received letters of endorsement from nine former Ambassadors who worked with him on Middle East issues, from 11 retired senior military officers, and from 50 retired Ambassadors and national security officials. He has been supported by the major groups of American veterans, including the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, AMVETS, Vietnam Veterans of America, and the American Legion. He has received support from the Military Officers Association of America, the Foreign Area Officer's Association, and the Non Commissioned Officers Association.
Senator Hagel's credentials are underscored by his service in war and in peace. As a young man, Senator Hagel enlisted in the Army and served in Vietnam, where he received two Purple Hearts, the Army Commendation Medal, and the Combat Infantryman Badge for his service. Senator Hagel served as Deputy Administrator of the Veterans' Administration during the Reagan Administration and was twice elected to the Senate, where he served on the Foreign Relations and Intelligence Committees.
Since he left the Senate four years ago, Senator Hagel has served as the Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Atlantic Council. The Atlantic Council counts among its other Directors and Honorary Directors seven former Secretaries of State and four former Secretaries of Defense, along with numerous other senior officials from the Administrations of both parties. The Atlantic Council is very much a part of the mainstream of the American foreign policy establishment.
Much of the time and attention at our committee hearing was devoted to a handful of statements that Senator Hagel made over the course of his career that raised legitimate questions about his views on Israel, Iran, and other issues. Senator Hagel explained or clarified these statements and placed them in context. He apologized for one remark and told the committee that he would say other things differently if he had the chance or were making them over.
Senator Hagel was clear and firm in the positions that he takes today and that he will take if confirmed as Secretary of Defense. In particular, Senator Hagel stated unequivocally that:
"Iran poses a significant threat to the United States, our allies and partners, and our interests in the region and globally. Iran continues to pursue an illicit nuclear program that threatens to provoke a regional arms race and undermine the global non-proliferation regime. Iran is also one of the main state-sponsors of terrorism and could spark conflict, including against U.S. personnel and interests."
He is "fully committed to the President's goal of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon," "all options must be on the table to achieve that goal," and his policy if confirmed will be "one of prevention, not of containment."
While he believes "engagement is clearly in our interests," "engagement is not negotiation." He stated: "I've never thought engagement is weakness. I never thought it was surrender. I never thought it was appeasement. I think it's clearly in our interest. . . . [G]et the international sanctions behind you, keep military options on the table. If the military option is the only option, it's the only option."
He is "a strong supporter of Israel," and believes that "we have a special relationship with Israel." If confirmed, he "will ensure our friend and ally Israel maintains its qualitative military edge in the region, and will continue to support systems like Iron Dome, which is today saving Israeli lives from terrorist rocket attacks."
Senator Hagel has also recognized the very real risks posed to our national security as a result of the unique budgetary pressure arising out of cuts previously agreed upon by Congress, the budgeting by continuing resolution, and the impending threat of a sequester. Senator Hagel told the Committee:
"[Sequestration,] if allowed to occur, would damage our readiness, our people, and our military families. It would result in the grounding of aircraft and returning ships to port, reducing the Department's global presence and ability to rapidly respond to contingencies. Vital training would be reduced by half of current plans and the Department would be unable to reset equipment from Afghanistan in a timely manner. The Department would reduce training and maintenance for non-deploying units and would be forced to reduce procurement of vital weapons systems and suffer the subsequent schedule delays and price increases. Civilian employees would be furloughed for up to 22 days. All of these effects also negatively impact long-term readiness. It would send a terrible signal to our military and civilian workforce, to those we hope to recruit, and to both our allies and adversaries around the world."
Some members of this committee strongly oppose President Obama's foreign policy. Regardless how we may feel about the President's policies, however, our vote on Senator Hagel's nomination will not change those policies. If there is a risk here, it is that the defeat of this nomination would leave the Department of Defense leaderless at a time when we face immense budgetary challenges and our military is engaged in combat operations overseas. Such an absence of senior leadership would be unlikely to benefit either our national defense or our men and women in uniform.
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. Senator Hagel certainly has those critically important qualifications and he is well-qualified to lead the Department of Defense.