Column: Hagel Shouldn’t Be Defense Secretary
Our military and national security interests are at a critical juncture. As a former colleague of Chuck Hagel’s, I know that he is a good man with a record of service that deserves respect. While his service is commendable, the lens through which his nomination as defense secretary must be considered needs to be both broader and more refined. Whether he is the right person to lead the Defense Department should be determined by his judgment, his fundamental view of America’s role in the world and his assessment of the military required to support this role.
After carefully reviewing his record from this perspective, I am unable to support his nomination.
President Barack Obama is unyielding in his determination to oversee significant reductions to the size and resourcing of our military. Such a course would have an enormous impact on the capabilities and readiness of our servicemen and women to operate in a world that becomes more complex and dangerous each day. Simply retreating from America’s leadership role in the world and shrinking our military will not make Americans safer. On the contrary, doing so will embolden our enemies, endanger our allies and provide opportunities for nations that do not share our interests to fill the global leadership vacuum we leave behind. I fear that Hagel will be a staunch advocate for, or even accelerate, the continuation of this administration’s misguided policies.
The most immediate threat facing the Defense Department is sequestration, which, if allowed to occur, will result in drastic across-the-board cuts to most major budget accounts. Outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has stated that these cuts would have a “catastrophic” and “devastating” effect on the military. Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has stated that we are “on the brink of creating a hollow force.” I couldn’t agree more.
Chuck Hagel, however, does not seem to share this view. In stark contrast, the Financial Times reported in December that he said, “There’s a tremendous amount of bloat in the Pentagon, and that has to be scaled back.” I strongly disagree and believe that averting the outcomes of defense sequestration must be the government’s top priority.
And on many of the security challenges facing U.S. interests around the world, Hagel’s record is deeply troubling. Too often, it seems, he is willing to subscribe to a worldview that is predicated on appeasing our adversaries while shunning our friends.
In 2000, when nearly every senator joined a letter to President Bill Clinton affirming U.S. solidarity with Israel in the face of Palestinian aggression, Hagel was one of just four who refused to sign. In 2001, he was one of just two senators who voted against a bill extending harsh sanctions against Iran.
A year later, he urged the Bush administration to support Iran’s membership in the World Trade Organization. On multiple occasions, including in his 2008 book, he has advocated direct negotiations with Iran, a country using multiple means to foment regional instability and threaten the security of Israel.
Hagel has also been an outspoken supporter of nuclear disarmament and the Global Zero Movement, which seeks a world free of nuclear weapons. At a time when North Korea’s belligerent actions threaten our allies and Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear-weapons capability risks the stability of the Middle East, the security of our nation and that of our allies require the United States to be vigilant with our nuclear weapons and defense systems.
The Senate ratified the New START treaty in 2010 only on the condition that President Obama would carry out a nuclear modernization program. Yet Hagel was a commissioner on a May 2012 Global Zero report on modernizing U.S. nuclear strategy, force structure and posture. Not only does that report not fully support the president’s commitment to nuclear modernization but it also advocates the assumption of extreme risk to our national security, including possible unilateral nuclear disarmament. Given the premises and conclusions of the Global Zero report, how can we in Congress be confident that he will carry out the modernization efforts required to maintain the effectiveness of our nuclear deterrent?
While I respect Hagel’s continued willingness to serve his country, I feel we are too philosophically opposed on the most pressing issues confronting the security of our nation. Issues related to our nation’s defense spending, international engagement and support for allies and nuclear modernization are just some examples where we are far apart. I cannot support his nomination.
Jim Inhofe, a U.S. senator from Oklahoma, is the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee.