TheDC’s Jamie Weinstein: 10 questions for defense secretary nominee Chuck Hagel

Jamie Weinstein Senior Writer
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President Barack Obama’s nomination of former Republican Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel to be his next defense secretary has set in motion the must-see political event of the season.

Though a decorated Vietnam vet, Hagel has critics on both the right and the left, and his confirmation hearing should be anything but tame.

Some Republican senators have already declared that they will vote against their former colleague. Others, both Democrats and Republicans, have expressed concern about his positions and past statements.

Here are 10 questions, in no particular order, Hagel should be asked when he visits Capitol Hill. The list is anything but exhaustive.

10.) In a 1998 interview, Sen. Hagel, you seemed to rationalize Palestinian terror against Israel when you said, “Desperate men do desperate things when you take hope away. And that’s where the Palestinians are today.” But study after study has shown that terrorists — in the Palestinian territories and elsewhere — are generally both better educated and wealthier than their neighbors. In other words, they are among the least desperate people in their societies. Do you have evidence that suggests otherwise?

And following your logic, do you believe the suicide terrorists who attacked America on 9/11 were acting out of desperation? Mohammad Atta, the leader of the 9/11 hijackers, was a middle class Egyptian studying architecture in Germany. What made him particularly desperate?

9.) During the height of the Palestinian terror war against Israel in 2002 — which Yasser Arafat’s widow recently confirmed was not spontaneous as some have tried to claim, but premeditated and planned by Arafat himself — you declared: “Israel is our friend and ally, and we must continue our commitment, but not at the expense of the Palestinian people.” (RELATED: Arafat’s widow reveals campaign that killed more than 1,000 Israelis wasn’t spontaneous

You went on: “What we need isn’t a cease-fire, leading to a sequential peace process, leading to negotiations on a Palestinian state, leading to negotiations on refugees, Jerusalem, etc. That time has passed. An end game must be brought to the front, now.”

Two years before you made those remarks, then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered a deal to end the conflict that was so generous that even then-Saudi Ambassador to the United States Prince Bandar bin Sultan reportedly said Arafat would be committing a “crime” if he walked away from it. But walk away Arafat did.

What do you think Israel could have done at the time you were criticizing them, in the midst of the terror campaign against them, to change the minds of the Palestinian leadership in favor of peace? How exactly was Israel supposed to react to indiscriminate murder against their population by suicide bombers?

8.) In an interview with the American diplomat Aaron David Miller, you said The Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here.” You also declared, “I’m not an Israeli senator. I’m a United States senator.”

How exactly does what you term the “Jewish lobby” intimidate you and most other senators in the Senate who come from states with miniscule Jewish populations? Who was suggesting you should act like an “Israeli senator?”

7.) In 2006, you were one of 12 senators who refused to sign onto a letter urging the European Union to label Hezbollah a terrorist organization. It is well documented, of course,  that Hezbollah is a terrorist organization. Our own State Department compared their effectiveness favorably to al-Qaida, saying Hezbollah may actually be “A-team of terrorists.” Do you believe Hezbollah is a terrorist organization? If yes, why didn’t you sign onto the letter?

6.) In a 2006 speech, you declared that “a military strike against Iran, a military option, is not a viable, feasible, responsible option.”

As you sit here today, what do you think would be worse: Iran obtaining nuclear weapons capability, or the consequences of a U.S. strike against Iranian nuclear facilities?

5.) In 2006, you said on the Senate floor: “Our relationship with Israel is a special and historic one, but it need not, and can not be at the expense of our Arab and Muslim relationships. That is an irresponsible and dangerous false choice.”

Spell out what you mean by that. How, exactly, do you believe America should change its relationship with Israel to curry favor with the Arab and Muslim world?

4.) Current Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has testified that further significant defense cuts, as imagined in defense sequestration, “would guarantee that we hollow out our force and inflict severe damage on our national defense.”

Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the current chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has said that defense sequestration would potentially lead to greater military conflict for the United States by causing the U.S. to go “from being unquestionably powerful everywhere to being less visible globally and presenting less of an overmatch to our adversaries.”

“That transformation would, in turn, change the nation’s deterrent stance and potentially increase the likelihood of conflict,” he said.

Sen. Hagel, you have said that you believe the defense budget is “bloated” and needs to be “pared down.” Do you think Sec. Panetta and Gen. Dempsey are wrong in their assessments? If so, why?

3.) Brooking Institution fellow Michael O’Hanlon writes that those who advocate cutting the defense budget by more than another $100-200 billion over the next decade must favor “a strategic shift — a more profound reorientation of America’s role in the world.”

Assuming you favor more drastic cuts to the Defense Department, can you lay out your vision of America’s role in the world? Where would you advocate pulling back from? What programs would you cut?

2.) You voted to give President Bush the power to launch the Iraq war, which you now believe was a mistake. You also opposed President Bush’s surge strategy, saying it was “the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam.”

Do you now believe that was a mistaken judgement as well, considering what the surge was able to accomplish in Iraq? Or do you still believe the surge strategy in Iraq was an immense foreign policy blunder?

1.) Some have criticized your nomination by arguing you don’t have the experience necessary to run a large bureaucracy like the Pentagon. One report quoted sources suggesting that the  way you managed your staff in the Senate was Anna Wintour-esque; that you were “angry, accusatory, petulant” as a manager. How do you respond to that criticism?

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Jamie Weinstein