Op-Eds

Omaha World-Herald
By U.S. Senator Deb Fischer
February 7, 2013

The decision to oppose a president's nominee is not one I take lightly.

I acknowledge that the president will nominate individuals with policy views distinct from my own; indeed, such differences do not automatically disqualify nominees. While Sen. John Kerry and I do not agree on much, I nonetheless supported his nomination
for secretary of state because his positions are within the mainstream of American foreign policy.

It is my constitutional duty to provide rigorous scrutiny of all nominees, particularly for secretary of defense. As then-Sen. Bob Kerrey once noted, “the defense secretary has to be considered differently than other Cabinet officers because he has the authority to move troops.” I agree with this heightened standard.

I appreciate Chuck Hagel's service, both as an infantryman in Vietnam and as a United States senator representing Nebraska. However, after meeting with him privately and
witnessing his confusing and contradictory testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, I cannot support his nomination. 

Nebraskans are familiar with some of Sen. Hagel's controversial views, ranging from his curious opposition to sanctions against Iran to his inconsistent views toward Hezbollah
and Hamas — terrorist organizations responsible for violence across the Middle East. Sen. Hagel has changed these positions and argued before the committee that he now supports U.S. efforts to actively prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear capabilities.

While some have voiced concern that he altered long-held views, I am more troubled by Hagel's insistence on positions that history has proven wrong.

During our one-on-one meeting, I asked Sen. Hagel if, in hindsight, he would have voted differently regarding unilateral sanctions on Iran. Despite the pressure these sanctions have exerted on the Iranian regime, Sen. Hagel stood by his lonely votes.
Similarly, when pressed by Sen. John McCain about his opposition to the surge of troops in Iraq, which helped to turn around an unsuccessful war, Sen. Hagel refused to acknowledge his incorrect judgment.

I understand no one has all the answers or is correct 100 percent of the time. But as an elected official, I also believe leadership requires the humility to admit being wrong.

By refusing to acknowledge previous miscalculations on fundamental national security
questions, Sen. Hagel has failed to instill confidence that he is the right leader for this position.

In response to a question from Sen. Kelly Ayotte on Iran policy, Sen. Hagel stated it “doesn't make any difference what I think.”

Indeed it does matter, and that is precisely the point.

As perhaps the most important adviser in the president's Cabinet, the secretary of defense's opinion matters more than most. The next secretary will play a critical role in
confronting the challenges of global terrorism and nuclear proliferation. Furthermore, during the next four years, the Pentagon will undergo an irreversible transformation under the specter of trillion-dollar budget cuts.

In order to maintain military readiness, we need a secretary with the ability to fight dangerous defense cuts through careful public persuasion and bipartisan consensus-building among lawmakers. Instead, we have a nominee who publicly characterized the Pentagon as “bloated” and later offered an unimpressive hearing performance, leaving lawmakers on both sides of the aisle wondering if he was up to the daunting task.

Moreover, to lead the Pentagon at this critical juncture, we need a secretary with organizational and budgetary expertise to effectively manage the world's largest bureaucracy — experience Sen. Hagel lacks.

I am also concerned by a May 2012 Global Zero report Sen. Hagel co-authored, which called for drastic reductions in our nuclear deterrence. The report makes numerous controversial claims and contradicts the profound, bipartisan consensus position regarding the nuclear arsenal's future.

Gen. C. Robert Kehler, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, publicly disagreed with the report's recommendations, which include elimination of the nuclear triad — a core tenet of U.S. strategic policy.

When I pressed Sen. Hagel on the report, he appeared generally unaware of its contents, arguing that direct quotes were inaccurate representations. He went on to assert repeatedly that the report never advocated for unilateral arms reductions, which it does exactly four different times.

Sen. Hagel argued the report “was illustrative, proposing nothing, but laying out different scenarios and possibilities”; it was “not a recommendation,” he said. Yet, it explicitly describes these provocative positions as recommendations and considers no
alternative nuclear postures. Instead of recanting these radical positions or explaining his thinking, Sen. Hagel skirted the issue entirely.

As a Washington Post editorial concluded: “Mr. Hagel's stated positions on critical issues, ranging from defense spending to Iran, fall well to the left of those pursued by Mr. Obama during his first term — and place him near the fringe of the Senate that
would be asked to confirm him.”

Sen. Hagel had a chance to clear the record and address bipartisan, well-intentioned concerns. He fell short, consequently failing to reach the heightened standard to which nominees to this position are held. I cannot support his nomination.