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Republican Chuck Hagel (right), President Obama^BENT^0027^EENT^s choice to lead the Pentagon, arrives at his confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington.
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Date published: 2/1/2013
WASHINGTON--Republican senators hammered former GOP Sen. Chuck Hagel at his confirmation hearing Thursday on issues ranging from Israel and Iran to his support for a group that advocates the elimination of nuclear weapons. But with most Democrats in his corner, an unflustered Hagel seems headed for approval as defense secretary.
Hagel, a former two-term senator from Nebraska, described his views as mainstream and closely aligned with those of President Barack Obama, the Democrat who nominated him. But several GOP members of the Armed Services Committee sought to portray him as radical and unsteady. Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., called his ideas "extreme" and "far to the left" of Obama.
Hagel said he believes America "must engage--not retreat--in the world," and insisted that his record is consistent on that point.
He pointed to Iran and its nuclear ambitions as an example of an urgent national security threat that should be addressed first by attempting to establish dialogue with Iranian rulers, although he said he would not rule out using military force.
"I think we're always on higher ground in every way--international law, domestic law, people of the world, people of the region to be with us on this--if we have gone through every possibility to resolve this in a responsible, peaceful way, rather than going to war," he said.
He pushed back on the notion--first raised by one of his harshest Republican critics, Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma--that he favors a policy of appeasement.
"I think engagement is clearly in our interest," Hagel told Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., who denounced the idea of negotiating with a "terrorist state."
"That's not negotiation," Hagel said. "Engagement is not appeasement. Engagement is not surrender."
After the daylong hearing, committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., said the panel could vote as early as next Thursday if Hagel quickly provides additional material requested by some members.
The nominee's fiercest exchange came with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a fellow Vietnam veteran, onetime close friend and a vote that could carry considerable sway. Politics and Hagel's evolving opposition to the Iraq war caused a split between the two men that was on full display.
McCain suggested that Hagel and his critics were not quibbling over small matters.