Executive Sessionby Senator Daniel Coats
Posted on 2013-02-26
COATS. Mr. President, normally I would be talking about the
sequester and the Nation's fiscal health, but we are about to vote on a
critical nomination for a very critical position in this government. I
wish to spend a few minutes defining why I came to the decision I have
to oppose the confirmation of Senator Hagel to be Secretary of Defense.
Chuck Hagel is a former colleague. He is someone I respect for his honorable service to this country, both in uniform and out of uniform. I respect him as a human being and as a person and, as I said, a colleague. I also recognize that elections have consequences, and in most situations the President has the right to choose his own advisers, but this is no ordinary Cabinet position. This is Secretary of Defense and one of the most critical positions in this government to protect the American people and to deal with national security issues.
Based on a number of positions Senator Hagel has taken and a number of statements he has made throughout his career, I have serious concern that his nomination and confirmation will send the wrong signal and could have a very adverse effect on our national security. I will list those.
First, and the primary reason, goes to the question of Iran and its relentless pursuit of nuclear weapons capability. As a Senator, Chuck Hagel repeatedly voted against sanctions legislation. He even opposed sanctions aimed at the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps who were killing and maiming our troops in Iraq.
As someone who, as ambassador to Germany, made many trips to Landstuhl, the first stop for those maimed by improvised explosive devices supported by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, I saw the tragic consequences of their action. I could not come to grips with how it is possible to vote against efforts to try to sanction and punish those who were injuring and maiming our soldiers. During his recent testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator Hagel also proclaimed the legitimacy of the current regime in Tehran which has violently repressed its own citizens. We have seen that played out before our very eyes. They have rigged recent elections, provided material support for terrorism and denied the Holocaust.
Regarding U.S. policy in Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons, Senator Hagel displayed an embarrassing lack of knowledge and confusion regarding our official policy toward Iran--a well-understood policy. One of the most critical topics facing our Nation is Iran's threat to world stability by the possession of nuclear capability and weapons. Senator Hagel had to be handed a note by an aide, indicating he was not aware his answer was contrary to even the administration's position. And his attempt to correct his answer had to be further clarified by the chairman of the Armed Services Committee. This is central to our position, to our policy relative to how we deal with Iran. Yet our next Secretary of Defense stated a position exactly opposite from what that current policy is.
The second issue of concern to me is that it is widely accepted, I think in a bipartisan way, that any sound strategy on Iran must be underpinned by the highly credible threat of U.S. military force if all other efforts fail; if diplomacy fails, if our ever-ratcheting sanctions fail as they have to this particular point. They may have had an impact on the Iranian public, but it has not had an impact on those leaders who are making the decisions about the pursuit of nuclear weapons. This has broad bipartisan support: Four U.S. Presidents, including President Obama, has declared that an Iranian nuclear arms capability is ``unacceptable.'' Use of military force as the last option, if all other options fail, is central to our ability to success in preventing Iran from achieving this capability.
Senator Hagel's previous statements and record contradict all that. He has publicly stated that military action to stop Iran's weapons programs is--and I quote his statement: ``Not viable, feasible, or reasonable.'' Not reasonable? Is it not reasonable to have a policy the administration has adopted and four U.S. Presidents have endorsed? When asked about this at the hearing, he again failed to offer, in my opinion, a coherent response.
Senator Hagel has long called for direct, unconditional talks with the Iranian regime, not to mention direct talks with Hamas, Hezbollah, and Syria as well. He has pressed that such talks should proceed without the backing gained from other more forceful, credible options. This approach is far too weak, in my opinion, to be effective and reveals a person less committed to results than this critical moment-- particularly regarding the Iranian intentions--demands. In fact, I fear a military option will have virtually zero credibility if Senator Hagel becomes Secretary of Defense because it sends a dangerous message to the regime in Tehran and undermines our efforts to prevent their intentions as it seeks to obtain the means necessary to harm both the United States and the country of Israel.
Lastly, and the third reason I have problems with this nomination, is that it does not have bipartisan support. Over the last half century, no Secretary of Defense has been confirmed and taken office with more than three Senators voting against him. Further, in the history of this Nation, in this position, none has ever been confirmed with more than 11 opposing votes.
The occupant of this critical office should be someone whose candidacy is neither controversial nor divisive. It would be unprecedented for a Secretary of Defense to take office without the broad base of bipartisan support and confidence needed to serve effectively in this critical position.
At this critical time in our Nation's history, we need a Secretary of Defense who commands bipartisan support and is willing to take every action necessary to defend the United States if the need arises. Based on the years of public statements and actions taken during his career, I cannot say Chuck Hagel meets the criteria needed for this position that is so critical--the position of Secretary of Defense; therefore, I will oppose his nomination when the vote comes before us.
[[Page S826]] With that, I yield the floor.
The PRESIDING OFFICER (Mr. Schatz). The Senator from Oklahoma.