Republican Florida Rep. Allen West is the latest military man in Congress to oppose the potential nomination of former Republican Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel to be the next secretary of defense.
“I don’t think Mr. Hagel is the right person at this time to lead our men and women in uniform as the defense secretary,” West, a former Army lieutenant colonel and veteran of both Iraq wars, told The Daily Caller in a phone interview.
West said that “some of [Hagel's] previous comments” on Iran and Israel were troubling, as was what West considered Hagel’s apparent “belief we can peel ourselves away from the Middle East when we see the deteriorating situation in the Middle East.”
“I believe that Syria will soon fall to the radical Islamists, and their next objective will be Jordan. And if we don’t have defense secretary that is strong on supporting Israel, then our best ally in the Middle East will find themselves completely surrounded, you know, with a Muslim Brotherhood Egypt, Hamas, Hezbollah, [an] Islamist state in Syria, and then what could happen in Jordan,” West said.
“And we know that Iraq has now become nothing but a satellite of Iran. Eventually you are going to have to build a military capability and capacity to contend with it. So I don’t know if he is the right person to send the message that we are, you know, not going to lose our focus on that CENTCOM area of operations.”
U.S. Central Command — CENTCOM — is the combatant command that covers the Middle East and part of southern Asia, including such hotspots as Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Hagel was seen, at least until recently, as the leading contender to replace Leon Panetta at the Pentagon. But he has faced a barrage of criticism since his name surfaced a month ago.
Hagel’s critics have drawn attention to his past call for direct talks with the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas and, when he was in the Senate, his refusal to sign on to a letter urging the European Union to designate Hezbollah a terrorist organization.
He voted against designating Iran’s Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization, and once claimed a “Jewish lobby” politically “intimidates” elected officials on Capitol Hill.
Hagel also has been attacked for once opposing an ambassadorial nominee in the 1990s because he was “aggressively gay.” He has since apologized for that remark.
Supporters of Hagel have pointed to the senator’s iconoclastic temperament and his service as an enlisted soldier in the Vietnam War, where he was awarded two purple hearts. But while West says he appreciates Hagel’s military service, he is more concerned about the policy positions Hagel would support at the Defense Department.