Despite strong bipartisan opposition (bipartisanship!), Barack Obama has reportedly decided to plunge ahead and nominate former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel to be the next Secretary of Defense. Plenty of ink has been spilled, and more will come on the senator’s track record, his antipathy toward Israel and Jews, his hostility toward homosexuals, his worldview, his anti-Semitic pals, his desire to huddle with Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah, and other terrorists to be named later. Doubtless the Senate Armed Services Committee will also investigate Hagel’s peripatetic career at the Atlantic Council, his track record as a manager while in the Senate, and what he knew and didn’t know as Chair of the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board.
And then there’s the question of his suitability to lead the Pentagon after opposing the surge in Iraq, the war in Iraq (after he supported it), the surge in Afghanistan, the full funding of the president’s budget request and more. We too will have more specific questions for Senator Chuck Hagel as the days pass before his nomination, but in the interest of giving the Senate something to think about until it reconvenes, some questions from AEI’s Foreign and Defense Policy team:
1. Senator Hagel, you have said that you would talk to the Islamic Republic and Hezbollah, a regime and a terrorist organization responsible for the deaths of the American soldiers you may lead. You have never, however, outlined either the costs of such a dialogue or detailed the metrics by which you would judge its success. Can you do so? If/when Iran gets the bomb, how should the US proceed? Would you support the use of force against Iran by either Israel or the United States?
2. You have said:
I disagreed with President Obama, his decision to surge in Afghanistan, as I did with President Bush on the surge in Iraq. It wasn’t a matter of could we win at that moment. Of course, no force in the world can stand the sophisticated power of American military. Nobody can stay on the field with you, but that’s not the issue. That never was the question. The question is then, what happens next?
Do you still believe the Afghanistan “surge” was a mistake?
There are reports that indicate that the president wishes to leave no more than 10,000 troops in Afghanistan post-2014. This will likely mean that the US cannot play any role in stabilizing the country due to security and logistics requirements. What outcome should the United States seek in Afghanistan?
3. Among other sharp criticisms, you have said that, “I think the Pentagon needs to be pared down.” Yet the current Secretary of Defense and the White House have suggested that sequestration will be a calamity for our national security. How can you reconcile your demand for greater cuts and the rejection of those cuts by the incumbent?
4. You have said that China is “a great power today, and they are going to continue to be a great power—and that’s okay. But we shouldn’t cower in the wake of that, and we shouldn’t be concerned that they’re going to take our place in the world.”
Do you believe China is a threat to stability in the Pacific and to its neighbors? With the current defense cuts, before sequestration, we will end up with 285 total ships in our entire naval fleet. That is below the numbers the navy said it wants, which is anywhere between 313-500. Meanwhile, China is growing its navy at a rapid pace, including 2-3 new submarines per year. Can we be credible in Asia with a shrinking navy relative to China’s?
5. On the issue of lobbies, you have said:
The Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here, [but] I’m a United States senator. I’m not an Israeli senator.
A lot of your colleagues are worried about a growing pro-People’s Republic of China lobby. Do you believe that this lobby intimidates people in Washington to be more pro-China?
You have an A-rating from the NRA–did they intimidate you? Or are you just pro-gun?
Are there other American ethnic groups that you believe lobby for other countries and intimidate Congressmen and women? If so, who?
NARAL gives you a dismal rating, including over your vote to ban abortions at military bases. Any intimidation or are you just against abortion?
6. Given your opposition on military action in Iraq, the surge in Afghanistan, the operations in Libya, and any US role in Syria, what do you believe the role of the US military should be in the fight against al Qaeda and other violent Islamist groups? Drones and special forces only?
7. You, like President Obama, oppose any military action in Syria, including by NATO. What is the likelihood that the fall of the Assad regime will now lead to a government in Syria heavily influenced by Islamist extremists, including elements of Al Qaeda? Is that possibility more likely because the US outsourced the equipping of the Syrian rebels to Islamist governments? Do you see an analogy to the mistake the Clinton administration made in Bosnia twenty years ago?
8. You now serve as co-chair of the president’s foreign intelligence advisory board and had access to the intelligence reports coming from Benghazi the night of September 11. While we are aware that you opposed the president’s choice of military action in Libya, what can you tell us about the information being given to the White House by the intelligence community before, during, and after the attack, and why the resulting focus on a video that apparently played no or little role in that murderous assault?
Do you believe that the attack in Benghazi was “inspired” by an obscure video on the internet, or was it planned in advance? Was the timing of September 11 simply a coincidence or was it chosen for symbolic purposes?
If you were Secretary of Defense, would you have cautioned your people to be on higher alert on or around that symbolically important date?
With fighter jets available and within reach of Benghazi on the night of September 11, would you have ordered fighter cover for our personnel in Benghazi until they had been successfully evacuated to Tripoli? If not, why not?