One of the main themes senators on the Senate Armed Services Committee committed themselves to today during Chuck Hagel’s confirmation hearing to be the next Secretary of Defense was — not wondering whether Hagel fully supports a diplomatic approach to Iran’s nuclear program, as most Americans do — but rather, whether the former Republican senator is willing to take this nation into another war in the Middle East if necessary.
Senator after senator, both Republican and Democrat, repeatedly sought Hagel’s reassurance that he is committed to starting a war with Iran — as if the last 10 years of a disastrous war in Iraq had never happened.
Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) was one of those senators. During one series of questions in which Ayotte wondered if Iran was “responsible” enough to deal with, Hagel explained that his priority is diplomacy. “I think it’s always wise to try to talk to people before you get into war,” he said:
AYOTTE: Because here we have a regime that doesn’t respond to in a responsible or sane behavior as a state-sponsor of terrorism and why that would be an appropriate manner for us to address them?
HAGEL: Well first I said engagement and I think we should talk, we actually are indirectly in the P5 plus one, we have been. I think that’s responsible. I think it’s always responsible to try to talk first. North Korea. I don’t consider North Korea a responsible, sane administration but we’re talking to North Korea. We’ve been talking bilaterally to North Korea. We are talking with the party of six to North Korea. I think that’s wise. I think it’s always wise to try to talk to people before you get into war.
Ayotte continued to badger Hagel about his past support for talks with Iran. “I’ve always thought that that’s smarter and wiser” to push countries into international organizations, Hagel said, adding:
HAGEL: Because when they go in to world bodies they have to comply with some semblance of international behavior it doesn’t mean they always will, they won’t, they cheat. But I think we’re smarter to do that. I’ve never thought engagement is weakness. I’ve never thought it was surrender. I never thought it was appeasement. I think it’s clearly in our interests. If that doesn’t work then I think the President’s position and his strategy has been exactly right. Get the United Nations behind you. Get the international sanctions behind you. Keep military options on the table. If the military option is the only option, it’s the only option.
Watch the clip:
“At Hagel hearing,” the Washington Post’s Rajiv Chandrasekaran observed on Twitter, “136 mentions of Israel and 135 of Iran. Only 27 refs to Afghanistan. 2 for Al Qaida. 1 for Mali.” Indeed, the neocons aren’t dead, yet — at least not in the Senate.
(Photo: Bloomberg via Getty Images)