During the marathon confirmation hearing of Chuck Hagel for secretary of defense, Israel and Iran topped the list of issues with each being mentioned 166 and 144 times respectively.
The “ill-prepared” former Nebraska senator answered questions on Thursday in the Senate Armed Services Committee in a meeting that lasted roughly eight hours.
Hagel was undoubtedly expected to face an uphill battle since his past policy comments against Israel and his opposition to White House’s decisions about Iran had assured the powerful Jewish lobby in the US, The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), that they needed all their ammunition for the fight against Obama’s nominee as the Pentagon chief.
Instead of asking about crucial issues like budget cuts in the Pentagon, US drawdown in Afghanistan and America’s new focus on Asia, Hagel faced “a risible array of hyperbolic, ill-informed, gotcha questions and expressions of narrow parochial concerns that had almost nothing to do with the challenges facing the next secretary of defense,” Michael Cohen wrote in the Guardian on Friday.
Professor Stephen M. Walt, who co-authored The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy with professor John Mearsheimer in 2007, wrote on the website of Foreign Policy on Friday that the hearing provided “such a compelling vindication” of the views they presented in their landmark publication.
“The bottom line is that AIPAC, which bills itself as ‘America’s Pro-Israel lobby’ has an almost unchallenged hold on Congress … Open debate about U.S. policy toward Israel does not occur there, even though that policy has important consequences for the entire world. (p. 162),” the duo wrote in the book.
Several senators took aim at Hagel who had in the past branded the supporters of Israel as “the Jewish lobby” which “intimidates” US senators into doing “dumb things.” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) asked Hagel to explain about his comments but he did not answer.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who used to be a friend of Hagel’s, asked him to give a “yes” or “no” to the question whether the surge of troops during the Iraq war was a good idea. Hagel refused to give outright agreement or disagreement to the policy.
In his 2008 memoir, “America: Our Next Chapter: Tough Questions, Straight Answers,” he said: “We blundered into Iraq because of flawed intelligence, flawed assumptions, flawed judgments, and ideologically driven motives.”
“We must not repeat these errors with Iran and the best way to avoid them is to maintain an effective dialogue,” he said in the memoir.
In 2006, Hagel had voiced opposition to waging a war on Iran and had earlier described the US sanctions regime against Iran as ineffective.
However, a day before the hearing, Hagel took a bellicose stance against Iran in a shift of position described by Senator John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, as a “confirmation conversion” devised to win the vote of confidence.
When the hearing turned to Hagel’s service during the Vietnam war, he once again said that his experience in the war effort had a great impact on the formation of his worldview.
After the Vietnam quagmire, Hagel, who was wounded in the war, said “I made myself a promise that if I ever got out of that place and was ever in a position to do something about war — so horrible, so filled with suffering — I would do whatever I could to stop it. I have never forgotten that promise.”
During his opening statement, the nominee defended his record but stressed it has not been free of “mistakes.” During the hearing, he tried to distance himself from some past remarks by expressing his commitment to Israel’s security, rejecting claims he had once supported unilateral nuclear disarmament and adopting a harsh stance against Iran.
According to the Buzzfeed website which provided figures about the frequency of some issues during the session, US drone strikes, a pillar of Washington strategy especially in Pakistan and Yemen, were not mentioned at all while the suicide of US troops was mentioned only twice.