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WASHINGTON, DC—Chuck Hagel, President Barack Obama’s defense secretary nominee who has come under fire for both his statements and actions relating to Israel, was pressed on his foreign policy record throughout a daylong Senate confirmation hearing last week that came on the heels of lobbying against his confirmation by more than 400 pro-Israel Christian leaders.
During the Jan. 31 hearing, the former Nebraska senator mistakenly expressed support for a U.S. policy of “containment” in dealing with the Iranian nuclear threat at his Senate confirmation hearing on Thursday.
“I’ve just been handed a note that I misspoke and said I supported the president’s position on ‘containment,’” Hagel went on to say. “If I said that, I meant to say that obviously—his position on containment—we don’t have a position on containment.”
U.S. Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) then intervened, saying, “Just to make sure your correction is clear, we do have a position on containment—which is we do not favor containment.”
Responding to U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), who questioned Hagel on a 2007 speech he gave the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in which he said “the strategy of containment remain[s] relevant today” regarding Iran, Hagel said “I don’t have the speech in front of me.”
“I think there was more to it,” Hagel added.
Hagel’s initial comment supporting containment came after he had read from a different speech, in which he stated that he was “committed to the president’s view that the United States should take no options off the table in our efforts to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.”
“What should we believe? What he read from the page or what he said later on?” Boaz Bismuth asked in an oped for Israel Hayom, adding that “Hagel perhaps ‘slipped’ at his Senate hearing—but his appointment will be a slip up for the administration.”
Hagel expressed regret for the infamous comment he made to former Middle East negotiator Aaron David Miller in 2008 that “The Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here.” Hagel said he should have instead used the term “pro-Israel lobby.”
“I’m sorry and I regret it,” Hagel said. “On the use of ‘intimidation,’ I should have used ‘influence,’ I think would have been more appropriate.”
U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer (R-NB) said Hagel’s ideas are “extreme” and “far to the left” of Obama’s. Hagel chairs the Atlantic Council think tank, which in December published a column titled “Israel’s Apartheid Policy” as well as a policy paper predicting that Iran “should be viewed as a potential natural partner” for the U.S.
Hagel while in the senate declined to sign an August 2006 letter asking the European Union to declare Hezbollah a terrorist organization (12 out of 100 senators did not sign), a November 2001 letter asking President George W. Bush not to meet Yasser Arafat until Arafat took steps to end violence against Israel (11 senators did not sign), and an October 2000 letter in support of Israel (four senators did not sign). Hagel did, however, sign a March 2009 letter asking Obama to directly negotiate with Hamas.
But in his opening statement Jan. 31, Hagel said “No one individual vote, no one individual quote or no one individual statement defines me, my beliefs, or my record.”
“My overall worldview has never changed: that America has and must maintain the strongest military in the world, that we must lead the international community to confront threats and challenges together, and that we must use all tools of American power to protect our citizens and our interests,” he said.
Earlier in the week, hundreds of pro-Israel Christians descended on Washington, DC, to raise heated voices against Hagel’s confirmation.
The Action Fund of Christians United for Israel (CUFI) brought more than 400 Christian leaders, in addition to some rabbis, from 46 different states to Capitol Hill to lobby their U.S. senators and U.S. representatives to vote against Hagel’s confirmation.
At the Jan. 28 preliminary session of the CUFI Emergency Summit, which began with a dinner and policy briefing, Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX), CUFI Founder and Chairman Pastor John Hagee, and CUFI board member and President of American Values Gary Bauer presented the organization’s positions—which were conveyed to House and Senate members Jan. 29.
“We Jews like to stand before God,” said Rabbi Aryeh Scheinberg as he led the ceremonial blessing of the bread at the rapidly convened Emergency Summit dinner.
Hagee laid out CUFI’s objections to an attentive audience, concluding “we pledge that we will stand with Israel when push comes to shove.”
“Well,” extolled Hagee, “push has come to shove!”
Hagee acknowledged Hagel’s record as a Vietnam veteran and senator “with all due respect,” but stressed that the positions the former senator has taken on Iran and Israel make him unsuitable as Secretary of Defense.
“The biggest threat to the security and safety of our front line ally, Israel, is an aggressive Iran in pursuit of nuclear weapons and regional domination… Hagel is not the man for this job: not now and not in the future!” Hagee said.
Hagee suggested Iran “is so excited about Chuck Hagel’s nomination that they have endorsed him.”
“Iran wants to wipe the Jewish people off the face of the earth and their candidate is Chuck Hagel,” the pastor said.
Hagee reminded of Hagel’s “Jewish lobby” comment. The former senator also told Aaron David Miller, “I’m not an Israeli senator. I’m a United States senator.”
“Well,” said Hagee, “we are the Christians of America and we stand with Israel.”
“We have pledged our loyalty and our love for Israel and the Jewish people,” he said. “We have pledged our solidarity and love for Zion. We will not be silent.”