Some observers are mystified by Chuck Hagel’s pathetic showing at his Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, but there should be no mystery about it. He performed as he did for one simple reason: He wants to be the next secretary of defense, and he (along with the White House) must have calculated that standing up for his past positions would have harmed his chances.
Only by establishment standards did the old Hagel look like a radical critic of U.S. foreign policy. For example, he once criticized the 2007 military surge in Iraq, but he voted to authorize President George W. Bush to send troops there.
He previously expressed concern about the drive to war with Iran over its alleged nuclear-weapons program. But he supported multilateral economic sanctions against the Iranian people, although he criticized unilateral sanctions and made favorable statements about negotiating with the Islamic republic.
Hagel also criticized Israel and what he called “the Jewish lobby” in the United States. Among his statements on this subject, he said the Israelis “keep Palestinians caged up like animals,” complained that the lobby “intimidated” members of Congress, and accused his congressional colleagues of doing “dumb” things as a result. Yet in the Senate he voted for every aid bill for Israel.
But during his Senate hearing, Hagel retracted or considerably watered down every one of these statements. To many questions, he responded along these lines: “I've said many, many things over many years.... If I — if I had a chance to go back and edit it, I would. I regret that I used those words.”
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