If you watched Chuck Hagel’s Senate confirmation hearing to become Secretary of Defense, you’d assume that Iran is at most days away from obtaining a nuclear weapon, requiring an immediate decision on the use of force. “If your position is truly prevention and not containment, Chuck, what is the redline [on Iran], what is the point?” asked Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA). “We know there’s some things happening over there right now that are very serious.”
But on Sunday morning, during an appearance on Meet The Press, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, alongside Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey, reiterated that Iran has not decided to pursue nuclear weapons, dispelling the narrative being put forward by Senate Republicans.
Speaking to guest host Chuck Todd, Panetta and Dempsey both made clear that they believe that Hagel will be confirmed and said that previous analysis about Iran still holds true:
PANETTA: What I’ve said, and I will say today, is that the intelligence we have is they have not made the decision to proceed with the development a nuclear weapon. They are developing and enriching uranium, they continue to do that —
TODD: Why do you believe they’re doing that?
PANETTA: I think it’s a clear indication — They say they’re doing that to be able to do their own energy source. I think it is suspect that they continue to enrich uranium because that is dangerous and that violates international rules.
TODD: You believe that they are probably developing nuclear weapons, but you don’t, the intelligence doesn’t —
PANETTA: No, I can’t — I can’t tell you they are in fact pursuing a weapon, because that’s what not intelligence say they’re doing right now.
Watch Panetta’s statements here:
Panetta also lamented the inability of Congress to ask a range questions about matters that the next head of the Pentagon will face, instead concentrating on Hagel’s past comments. The focus on Iran and Israel, according to Panetta, crowded out discussion on military budget, combating terrorism, and the still ongoing war in Afghanistan. “We just did not see enough time spent on discussing those issues. And in the end, that’s what counts,” Panetta said.
To illustrate the disparity in questioning, the Washington Post’s Max Fischer conducted a word count of Hagel’s hearing’s transcript. Throughout the three rounds of questions, “Iran” was brought up 169 times and “Israel” mentioned 178 times. Meanwhile, “Al Qaeda” was only mentioned twice.
Despite the opposition put forward by the Senate GOP, it seems unlikely that Hagel’s nomination will be filibustered. Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) on Friday indicated that a majority vote alone should be able to move Hagel to the Pentagon, while Sen. Lindsey Graham’s (R-SC) threat to hold Hagel’s confirmation fizzled with the announcement of a coming Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Benghazi.