Executive Sessionby Senator John Cornyn
Posted on 2013-02-26
CORNYN. Mr. President, we all know the Chamber is about to hold a
cloture vote on the President's nominee to be the next Secretary of
Defense. If former Senator Chuck Hagel is eventually confirmed, he will
take office with the weakest support of any Defense Secretary in modern
history, which will make him less effective on his job.
I ask unanimous consent to have printed in the Record a letter regarding this nomination following my remarks. It is a letter dated February 21, signed by 15 Senators, to the President asking him to withdraw the nomination, noting that no Secretary of Defense since that position has been created has received more than 11 opposing votes. I am confident this vote will eclipse that former record demonstrating what the Senator from Indiana was just talking about, and that is a lack of bipartisan support for this critical position in the President's Cabinet.
What should we expect from Senator Hagel if he is confirmed as Secretary of Defense? Well, it is hard to say. Over the last 2 months he has repudiated many of his past votes and stated positions related to the Middle East and the Defense Department. During his confirmation hearings, he actually said the Defense Secretary was not a policymaking position. I had to scratch my head at that one.
I also had to scratch my head when Senator Hagel described President Obama's policy toward Iran and its nuclear program as containment. When he tried to correct himself, he said President Obama does not have a position on containment, but that is not true either. The U.S. position--as the distinguished chairman of the Armed Services Committee reminded Senator Hagel during that hearing, and which reflects a wide bipartisan consensus--is that we oppose containment and will prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons. That is the U.S. policy, one that people would think the nominee for Secretary of Defense would be aware of.
Unfortunately, I fear Senator Hagel is actually expressing his own personal views. I fear he really does think a nuclear Iran could be contained. He suggested as much in the book he wrote in 2008.
At another point during the hearing, Senator Hagel described the murderous, terror-sponsoring Iranian theocracy as an ``elected, legitimate government.'' That comment is a slap in the face to all of the courageous Iranian democracy activists who have risked their lives and, in many cases, given their lives to oppose the dictatorship and promote freedom.
There is simply no way to sugarcoat it. Senator Hagel's performance before the Senate Armed Services Committee was remarkably inept, and we should not be installing a Defense Secretary who is obviously not qualified for the job and who holds dangerously misguided views on some of the most important issues facing national security policy for our country. For that matter, Senator Hagel was candid to admit there are many things about the Department he doesn't really know. He has assured us he will learn on the job. That doesn't inspire a lot of confidence in me because I don't think we want a Secretary of Defense who has to learn on the job.
A moment ago I mentioned Senator Hagel holds dangerously misguided views about many critical issues. His supporters have called him a realist. In fact, there is nothing realistic about his world view.
It is not realistic to think that by offering unconditional talks or establishing a new U.S. diplomatic post in Iran it will change the character of a regime that has spent the past 34 years waging war against America and our allies--a regime that was recently discovered to have been plotting to assassinate a Saudi diplomat by blowing up a crowded restaurant in Washington, DC. Likewise, it is not realistic to think that further engagement with Hamas will dissuade it from pursuing Israel's destruction. A terrorist organization that promotes genocidal violence is never going to be reformed by dialogue or concessions.
Finally, it is not realistic to think that browbeating Israel will jumpstart the Middle East peace process. President Obama tried that approach himself during his first term, and it was a spectacular failure. We are further from a lasting peace agreement today than we were in January 2009, and many Israelis, along with many Arabs, believe the United States is no longer a reliable ally.
When we look around the Middle East, not only do we see a theocratic dictatorship trying to acquire nuclear weapons, we see a terrible civil war raging in Syria which is led by a desperate, pro-Iranian regime with massive stockpiles of chemical weapons that has no reservation whatsoever at killing tens of thousands of its own civilians. We see the Muslim Brotherhood attempting to create a new dictatorship in Egypt. We see rising sectarian violence in Iraq because of our withdrawal without a status of forces agreement that would stabilize the country and a democracy earned by the blood and treasure of so many Americans. We see a substantial al-Qaida presence in countries such as Libya and Yemen.
President Obama would like to pivot away from the Middle East, but the region isn't cooperating. Now, more than ever, we need a Secretary of Defense who understands the disastrous consequences of a nuclear Iran.
We need a Defense Secretary who understands the importance of a robust U.S.-Israeli alliance.
We need a Defense Secretary who understands Hamas for what it is: a genocidal terrorist group sworn to Israel's destruction.
In a larger sense, we need a Secretary of Defense who understands why U.S. leadership is indispensable to solving our greatest challenges in the Middle East and beyond.
Senator Hagel is clearly the wrong man for the job. This isn't about personality, this isn't about politics, but I will be voting against his confirmation for that reason: because he is clearly the wrong man for the job.
There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in the Record, as follows: U.S. Senate, Washington, DC, February 21, 2013.
President Barack H. Obama, The White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW., Washington, DC.
Dear President Obama: Last Thursday, the Senate voted to continue its consideration of your nomination of former Senator Chuck Hagel to serve as our nation's next Secretary of Defense. While we respect Senator Hagel's honorable military service, in the interest of national security, we respectfully request that you withdraw his nomination.
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. 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 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.
In contrast, in 2011, you nominated Leon Panetta, who was confirmed by the Senate with unanimous support. His Pentagon tenure has been a huge success, due in part to the high degree of trust and confidence that Senators on both sides of the aisle have placed in him. The next Secretary of Defense should have a similar level of broad-based bipartisan support and confidence in order to succeed at a time when the Department of Defense faces monumental challenges, including Iran's relentless drive to obtain nuclear weapons, a heightened threat of nuclear attack from North Korea, potentially deep budget cuts, a strategic pivot to the Asia- Pacific region, military operations in Afghanistan, the ongoing Global War on Terror, the continued slaughter of Syrian civilians at the hands of their own government, and other aftermath of the Arab Spring.
Likewise, Senator Hagel's performance at his confirmation hearing was deeply concerning, leading to serious doubts about his basic competence to meet the substantial demands of the office. While Senator Hagel's erratic record and myriad conversions on key national security issues are troubling enough, his statements regarding Iran were disconcerting. More than once during the hearing, he proclaimed the legitimacy of the [[Page S827]] current regime in Tehran, which has violently repressed its own citizens, rigged recent elections, provided material support for terrorism, and denied the Holocaust.
Regarding U.S. policy on Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons, Senator Hagel displayed a seeming ambivalence about whether containment or prevention is the best approach, which gives us great concern. Any sound strategy on Iran must be underpinned by the highly credible threat of U.S. military force, and there is broad bipartisan agreement on that point. If Senator Hagel becomes Secretary of Defense, the military option will have near zero credibility. This sends a dangerous message to the regime in Tehran, as it seeks to obtain the means necessary to harm both the United States and Israel.
We have concluded that Senator Hagel is not the right candidate to hold the office of Secretary of Defense, and we respectfully request that you withdraw his nomination. Thank you for your consideration.
John Cornyn; Lindsey Graham; David Vitter; Mike Lee; Marco Rubio; Ron Johnson; Tom Coburn; Tim Scott; James Inhofe; Roger Wicker; Ted Cruz; Patrick Toomey; Daniel Coats; James E. Risch; John Barrasso.
Mr. CORNYN. Mr. President, I yield the floor.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Delaware.