Chuck Hagel’s Words Come Back to Haunt Him

by InvestorPlace Staff | January 8, 2013 8:11 pm

[1]Chuck Hagel’s blunt-spoken past as a Republican senator from Nebraska is coming back to haunt him today, as many pundits are using his past words to criticize his nomination as Obama’s next Defense Secretary[2].

Hagel’s comments on Israel, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and even his opinion on a gay diplomat could become fodder for critics of his nomination. Here are some of the more controversial quotes of his, and how they are being used against him.

“I’m not an Israeli senator. I’m a United States senator.”

Hagel said these words in 2006 when interviewed by former Mideast peace negotiator Aaron David Miller in 2006. Hagel also made reference to “the Jewish lobby,” which rubbed many Israel supporters the wrong way.

“The Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people. … I’ve always argued against some of the dumb things they do, because I don’t think it’s in the interest of Israel.”

His remarks have been criticized by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. and Jim Inhofe, R-Okla. McCain was previously the ranking member of the Armed Services Committee and Inhofe is currently the highest ranking Republican. Hagel’s views on Iran, Hamas, and Hezbollah have also been criticized as being insufficiently tough.

In fact, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., has said Hagel “would be the most antagonistic secretary of defense toward the state of Israel in our nation’s history.”

“Militaries are built to fight and win wars, not bind together failing nations.”

Hagel was initially a supporter of the war in Afghanistan, but cooled in his support as the war continued for over 10 years. He was also quoted in a radio interview this year as saying “the American people want out” of Afghanistan.

Some critics feel this bodes poorly for the United States’ likelihood to intervene in other countries’ conflicts, particularly the Syrian civil war. They don’t like the idea of the United States limiting its military role on the global scale.

“[Iraq surge is] the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam.”

In 2007, during a hearing about President George W. Bush’s plans to introduce a “surge” of 30,000 more troops to Iraq, Hagel spoke out in opposition to the plan. He warned that the plan would lead to cross-border conflict with Iran or Syria. His stance put him in opposition to Bush and the rest of his party, including Sen. and fellow Vietnam veteran McCain.

As it turned out, the troop surge ended up stabilizing Iraq, putting it on the path for the withdrawal of United States troops from the country at the end of 2011.

” I think it is an inhibiting factor to be gay – openly, aggressively gay”

While not directly pertaining to his possible role as Defense Secretary, Hagel has been catching heat from gay rights groups for his comments in 1998 about President Bill Clinton’s nomination of James Hormel to be ambassador to Luxembourg. Hormel, who is openly gay, was criticized by several conservative senators during confirmation hearings.

During these hearings, Hagel added his voice to critiques made by senators like Inhofe and Trent Lott, in a interview with the Omaha World Herald.

“They are representing America. They are representing our lifestyle, our values, our standards. And I think it is an inhibiting factor to be gay — openly, aggressively gay like Mr. Hormel — to do an effective job.”

Luxembourg, however, had removed laws banning consensual same-sex acts in the 1800s, and Hormel was eventually appointed via recess appointment. Now, gay rights have denounced his past words as bigoted.

— Benjamin Nanamaker, InvestorPolitics Editor

The opinions contained in this column are solely those of the writer.

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