Hagel, who has been making the rounds on Capitol Hill for weeks, will have to convince his former GOP colleagues that he supports tough policies on Iran and a focus on prevention rather than containment.
Republicans on the Armed Services Committee will likely hit Hagel on what they perceive to be inconsistencies on his stances on Iran, as well as other issues.
“Who are we getting? The guy of today or the guy who said these things before?” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a member of the committee, said Tuesday. Graham said he will focus his questions to Hagel on “what you said then, what you’re saying now.”
Hagel told the Lincoln Journal Star earlier this month that he has long opposed unilateral sanctions because he doesn’t believe they work and instead only isolate the United States. But in a Jan. 14 letter to California Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer, Hagel said that “further effective sanctions, both multilateral and unilateral,” may be necessary.
In his written response to the committee, Hagel said the White House, with significant help from Congress, has brought “the world community together to confront Iran with effective sanctions.” Pressure on Iran, he added, is building.
But that likely will not be enough to satisfy some Republicans on the panel who believe Hagel has flip-flopped on the Iran issue during the confirmation process.
“Retracting your positions based solely upon public criticism of your record raises serious questions on issues that are critical to national defense,” Republican Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana wrote in a Jan. 24 letter to Hagel.
Rhode Island Democratic Sen. Jack Reed, who sits on the Armed Services Committee, defended Hagel on Wednesday, telling reporters that “historical reviews” of Hagel’s letters and votes may be interesting, but the fact remains that there are currently stringent sanctions in place.
“Hagel will be able to provide the military support to that foreign policy,” Reed said.
Republicans, meanwhile, are also expected to hit Hagel hard on his stance on nuclear weapons.
Hagel was a well-known arms control advocate during his two terms in the Senate. But it is his work after leaving the Senate — namely, a report he co-wrote last year that recommended deep reductions in the U.S. nuclear inventory and eventually retiring intercontinental ballistic missiles, which form the land leg of the military’s nuclear triad of land, sea and air delivery platforms — that has drawn the most scrutiny.
The other authors of the report, including retired Marine Corps Gen. James E. Cartwright, the former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, fired back this week at Hagel’s critics, stressing that they are not in favor of unilateral reductions in the U.S. nuclear inventory.
“We support bilateral, negotiated, verifiable U.S.-Russian arms reductions, to be followed by multilateral negotiations, bringing other key countries into a serious, verifiable process of reductions,” they said in a statement this week.
In his written responses to the Senate Armed Services Committee, Hagel said he supports maintaining the triad, which the military is in the early stages of modernizing.
“I support the president’s commitment to a safe, secure and effective nuclear deterrent as long as nuclear weapons exist,” he wrote. “I believe that providing necessary resources for nuclear modernization of the triad should be a national priority.”
Democrats are widely expected to support the president’s pick for the next Pentagon chief, even though many still remain noncommittal publicly.