In this Jan. 31, 2013 file photo, former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington before the Senate Armed Services Committee’s confirmation hearing. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky. is raising the possibility of a filibuster of Hagel to be defense secretary. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

Op-ed: Sen. Hagel would leave our nation weaker

America must continue to be a force for freedom and security in the world, and to do so, our nation needs a strong military.  All Americans can agree on that, whether Republican, Democrat or independent.  Unfortunately, former Senator Chuck Hagel, the President’s nominee for Defense Secretary, supports policies that would leave our nation weaker and less able or willing to support liberty abroad.  The Senate should not confirm Senator Hagel.

Our military cannot defend our nation and support free nations worldwide without the resources they need to do their jobs.  However, when asked one year ago about the impact of huge cuts to defense due to sequestration – which takes effect in March – Senator Hagel appeared to welcome such cuts, saying the defense budget was “bloated” and the Pentagon “needs to be pared down.”  But indiscriminate sequestration wouldn’t just trim the fat; it would gut the very muscle of our defense.  In fact, one of the President’s close allies, former White House deputy press secretary Bill Burton, said Hagel would make “huge cuts” as Defense Secretary. 

The Department of Defense is already facing hundreds of millions of dollars in proposed cuts by the Administration.  Sequestration cuts defense by 18 percent across the board – $500 billion over the next decade.  These cuts will affect all defense spending, without prioritizing; our war in Afghanistan, our operations in the critical Persian Gulf region, our soldiers’ benefits, and equipment maintenance – all will be hit by these cuts.  We will have the smallest army, navy and air force levels in decades.  These are the consequences of the kinds of slash-and-burn defense cuts that Senator Hagel seems to back. 

But don’t just take my word for it that the cuts Hagel supports are foolhardy – listen to current Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who testified before Congress last year that sequestration “guarantees that we are going to hollow the [military] force and devastate our national security.”  Panetta later testified, for good measure, that sequestration is “a nutty formula and … it’s not something, frankly, that anybody who is responsible ought to put into effect.”  Panetta’s successor needs to work with Congress to avert these looming cuts, and quickly.  While nominee Hagel now says he opposes sequestration, there’s no reason to think that a Defense Secretary Hagel, once confirmed, won’t revert to his old ways and make such reckless cuts a reality.

Speaking of unsound cuts, Hagel also wants to cut our nuclear weapons arsenal all the way down to zero.  He even co-authored a report supporting unilateral American nuclear disarmament as an option.  While no one likes nuclear weapons, unilaterally eliminating our nuclear stockpile would remove our deterrent even as Russia, China, Pakistan and North Korea continue to have nukes, and as the Iranian regime rushes to cross the nuclear arms finish line as well. 

Not only would a Defense Secretary Hagel choose to have a weaker U.S. defense force, he could not be relied upon to stand with our free allies and against the enemies of freedom.  Hagel has strongly criticized our democratic ally Israel, wrongly saying Israel “keep[s] Palestinians caged up like animals” and engaging in moral equivalence by blaming Israel as much as a terrorist group like Hezbollah for “sickening slaughter” in the 2006 war in Lebanon, which Hezbollah instigated and worsened by using civilians as human shields. 

In contrast to his harsh views on a free democracy and U.S. allies like Israel, Hagel has repeatedly opposed sanctions against dictatorships and enemies like Iran, Qaddafi’s Libya, and even Cuba.  In fact, Hagel said Jimmy Carter was “exactly right,” agreeing with the former president in opposing U.S. pressure on the Communist Cuban regime.  Hagel labeled Castro as a “toothless old dinosaur” in 2002, and soon thereafter the regime executed three young Cubans for trying to escape the country, began the most extensive repressive sweep in the modern history of the Americas (known as the “Black Spring”) and has had thousands of peaceful activists tortured and arrested.  The Castros are no less toothless than Hagel’s comment was offensive. 

Hagel also said that labeling Castro as a threat was “just goofy.”  Perhaps Hagel should remember that the Cuban regime continues to harbor anti-American terrorists and fugitives from U.S. justice and now holds hostage an innocent U.S. civilian, Alan Gross.

Some argue that Hagel’s record is not important because only the President’s policies really matter.  But not only do presidential appointments impact policy, they reflect the President’s priorities.  If Obama had chosen former California Governor Pete Wilson as Secretary of Homeland Security, everyone would be rightfully questioning the President’s commitment to immigration reform.

Supporting deep cuts to defense and America’s nuclear arsenal… Condemning Israel but opposing sanctions on rogue regimes…  This is the Hagel record in the past; this could be the Pentagon policy in the future if he is confirmed.  For the sake of our country and people everywhere who seek freedom, we can and must do better.  The Senate must reject Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense.


Mauricio Claver-Carone is a board member of Americans for a Strong Defense (ASD).


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