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My Turn: Good questions from Ayotte, troubling answers from Hagel

It came as no surprise during Chuck Hagel’s confirmation hearing to serve as defense secretary that Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte wanted to learn more about his views on Iran.

Iran is a leading state sponsor of terror that is aggressively seeking a nuclear weapons capability. The regime in Tehran has long engaged in bombastic and aggressive behavior, often using reckless language.

As a reminder, Iran took Americans hostage in 1979, actively supports terrorist groups like Hezbollah and Hamas, and provided the roadside bombs that killed American men and women in Iraq. Dangerously, Iran has called for our close ally Israel to be wiped off the map, while oppressing the Iranian people and providing Iraqi militias training and explosives to kill our troops.

If a regime that engages in these sorts of activities ever acquired a nuclear weapons capability, it would represent a grave threat not only to American national security but to security and stability in the Middle East.

A recent column by Asher Mayerson focusing on Ayotte’s questioning of Hagel sought to defend Hagel’s efforts to block unilateral American sanctions against Iran (“Ayotte could learn a thing or two from Hagel,” Monitor Forum, Feb. 8).

Hagel explained his votes against sanctions on Iran by saying that he only opposed unilateral sanctions because they “don’t work and they just isolate the United States.”

Doubly wrong

Hagel is dangerously wrong on both counts. Unilateral U.S. sanctions against Iran, including sanctions on Iran’s central bank and oil industry, have encouraged our international partners to follow suit. What Hagel and the author perhaps do not understand – but which Ayotte clearly does – is that U.S. unilateral sanctions are a powerful tool of American leadership.

Unilateral U.S. sanctions helped spur even more effective multilateral sanctions, which have inflicted a devastating blow to Iran’s economy. The U.S. strategy is to shift the ayatollahs’ cost-benefit analysis of their nuclear program in a more positive direction. Watching recent events, it is no wonder that states in the Middle East, notably Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Egypt, ask whether they, too, ought to acquire nuclear weapons to deter Iran. These are just some of the stakes at risk with Iran’s nuclear program.

Perhaps this is why then-Sen. Barack Obama, then-Sen. Hillary Clinton, and then-Sen. John Kerry all co-sponsored unilateral sanctions legislation, but which Hagel opposed.

Hagel’s consistent opposition to unilateral sanctions against Iran puts him not only outside the mainstream of his own party – but, worse, well outside the mainstream of the administration in which he hopes to serve.

In fact, after Hagel left the Senate, the Senate voted 100-0 to support the unilateral imposition of sanctions against Iran’s financial sector. Shortly thereafter, the Europeans followed our lead. To me, that sounds precisely like the ability of American leadership to avert a Middle East catastrophe over Iran’s nuclear program.

Incomplete account

Worse, the Mayerson column did not provide a complete and accurate picture of Ayotte’s exchange with Hagel. For example, while the author claimed that Hagel supports keeping all options on the table for preventing a nuclear capable Iran, he failed to mention that Ayotte asked Hagel about his 2006 comment in which he said that a military option “is not a viable, feasible or responsible option.” This is but one of several instances in which Hagel directly contradicted himself, giving inconsistent answers on fundamental questions that affect the nation’s security.

Unlike Hagel, who has suggested that military force should be taken off the table, I believe that the U.S. should keep all options on the table. I strongly agree with Ayotte that a credible threat of force against Iran reinforces diplomacy, empowers our diplomats and lessens the chance that military force will ever have to be used.

Finally, Mayerson also failed to mention that later in the hearing, Ayotte asked Hagel about a 2007 speech in which he said that the strategy of containing Iran remains relevant.

To be clear, President Obama rejects containment as a strategy because the objective of American policy is to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons – not to manage a nuclear-armed Iran.

Rightly, the prime minister of Israel and the U.S. Senate rejected a policy of containment. Although Hagel acknowledged that he once considered containment to be an option, he backtracked during the hearing – again, showing a disconcerting lack of consistency and perhaps inadequate preparation for the hearings.

Hagel even went so far as to tell Ayotte that it “doesn’t make any difference what I think.” Stunningly, an individual nominated to serve in one of the most important positions in the president’s Cabinet suggests that his views and beliefs are irrelevant.

I strongly agree with Mayerson that a war with Iran would be terrible. What would be far worse, however, is if the world’s worst state sponsor of terrorism obtained the world’s most dangerous weapon.

(William C. Martel of Bedford is associate professor of international security studies at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and author of Victory in War: Foundations of Modern Strategy.)

Legacy Comments15

Contrary to what Martel argues in this column, Senator Kelly Ayotte did not use her time at Chuck Hagel’s confirmation hearings to, as Martel puts it, “learn more about his views on Iran." Rather, Ayotte turned the hearings into an opportunity for political grandstanding. In subcommittee hearings, Ayotte was allotted ten minutes to question Hagel but she chose to let him speak for only three. At one point, she told Hagel, “I don’t want to interrupt you.” Yet she did interrupt him, frequently. She chose to harp on particular comments taken out of context -- with no evident interest in learning about Hagel’s foreign policy positions. Perhaps most embarrassing was Ayotte’s quest to redefine the word “could” as “should.” Hagel co-authored a 2012 report that explored the possibility of reductions in the United States’ nuclear weapons arsenal. His defense? “The report does not recommend we do these things. The report says ‘could.’” Incredibly, Ayotte appeared incapable of understanding that Hagel had not contradicted his position that the U.S. should maintain its nuclear stockpile. After almost five minutes, she dropped her argument. I wish that my senator had asked “good questions.” Unfortunately, as Martel fails to acknowledge, Ayotte spent her time distorting Hagel’s views and demonizing his multilateral strategy for stopping a nuclear Iran. Senator Ayotte’s partisan questioning did not do justice to Senator Hagel, her New Hampshire constituents, or the broader American public.

Incorrect. Hagel is a dope, he was inarticulate and there is a serious question as to whether he is all that intelligent. Hagel borders on the anti-Semitic side of the equation as does Obama and many progressive posters here as well. We need many more Kelly Ayotte's and far fewer Reid's, Pelosi's, Obama's, Shaheen's, Kuster's and Shea-Porter's who simple march in lockstep to an agenda, an ideology.

Mayerson is "incorrect" why? Because you disagree with him? Facts to support your assertions are notably lacking. As usual, you conflate fact with opinion, and then leaven your posts with a heaping dose of name-calling, for good measure. So who really has the "ideology"?

Thank you Mr. Martel but progressives think that you can reason and negotiate with anyone, even those who enslave their own populations, restrict the rights of women and refuse to allow them to be educated and they celebrate folks worshiping Allah while demagoging Christians. The issue is not Iran getting the nuclear weapon, it is the pacifist, naive weaklings which stand in the way in stopping Iran because they think cum-bay-a is a foreign policy. The same goes for Korea. We know where the leaders who amount to little more than butchers are on May Day, seems like that might be a time to..........well, free the people of North Korea from oppression while putting their nuclear weapon program out of commission.

Randy Newman could have had you in mind when he wrote "Political Science" in 1972. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4iiv-6fMKyY "No one likes us--I don't know why/ We may not be perfect, but heaven knows we try/ But all around even our old friends put us down/Let's drop the big one and see what happens/....They all hate us anyhow/So let's drop the big one now/Let's drop the big one now"

The Secretary of Defense is picked by the President Dean with the idea that his pick will go along with his plans. The purpose of the hearing was to see how Hagel thought on many issues. It was perfectly clear that he agreed with the President. So to say the hearing was a waste of time pretty much enforces the idea that many voters do not care or are uninformed about foreign policy, what is going on and the ramifications of having a lousy SD running the show.

Wait a minute RabbitNH, in the words of Hillary: "what difference does it make!!!!!?" That is the real issue with progressives. Pick and choose what to be outraged about based on ideology.

REPORT: Hagel Said Israel Headed Toward Apartheid; Called Netanyahu 'Radical'...

That Israel may be headed for apartheid, and that Natanyahu may be considered a radical, have long been topics of discussion and debate in Israel and should come as no surprise to those who follow the issue carefully. The level of debate on the issue in Israel is far more vigorous than here. Does that make Israelis anti-semitic? In this country, the debate is constrained by fear, because the charge of anti-semitism is quickly leveled by AIPAC or the ADL against anyone who suggests that Israel's settlement policies and no-negotiation strategy are leading to a de facto apartheid system. BTW: a new movie, "The Gatekeepers", interviews a number of former Mossad and Shin Bet heads--all of whom have far more moderate, even dovish views on the issues of negotiations with Hamas and on whether to attack Iran's nuclear facilities. In short, their views are much like Hagel's own. One high-ranking former military leader estimated that upwards of 90% of Israel's ex-senior security people are moderates and favor negotiations, and a halt to settlements.

The Secretary of Defense doesn't make policy, so Sen. Ayotte's questions like the most of the rest of the hearing was a waste of time. Does Chuck Hagel have the management chops to run what's gotta be one of the world's largest organizations? I have no idea, because our senators were all too distracted to explore this basic question.

Dean, I think the Sec of Defense is there to help set and implement policy, and assistant secretaries with specific areas of expertise are brought in to manage. David Packard of Hewlett-Packard fame was a fine assistant sec. who managed well and ran DOD efficiently during his tenure. Hagel will be looking for similar private sector management expertise in order to sensibly downsize, reduce waste, duplication, etc. I was disappointed in Hagel's performance in the hearing, he clearly wasn't ready for the prime time grilling that he probably wasn't expecting from his former colleagues and friends. I'm sure he'll be better prepared next time. I think he's a good choice; I think he was right on the surge, and right on Israel (on this topic, he said little substantively different from things Petraeus and other military brass have said).

If you want to reduce waste, duplication and to downsize government, please read the GAO Duplication report which is available on line. There are 360 pages of wasteful programs and wasteful examples including some defense cuts but also common sense cuts in HHS, Interior Department, EPA, Department of Education, Administrative Services and even the executive branch. He is wrong on Israel, he is an anti-Semite, not surprising that you approve. The other day it was WASP's that you were ranting about, today it is Israel. Now who would listen to (I can't control my hormones) Petraeus. Are decency, morality and ethics NOT in the progressive lexicon. I know that common sense isn't. If he can't think on his feet during that 'prime time grilling' then he really is not ready to think on his feet on the world stage.

Another perfect rebuttal to the Monitor's daily skewed leftist ideology

And printed in the Monitor yet! Imagine. Such diversity of opinion you see far less often in the 'MisLeader'.

Untrue. The Monitor lets far more of the partisan ideological slant of the editors to permeate the pages. The Union Leader allows more viewpoints on their opinion pages. Newspapers are the last bastion in protecting the populace from any government which propagandizes the real truth. They are not supposed to be tools of any political ideology. I know that readers of the Monitor want to be validated and want to read just stories which back up their narrow point of view. In this case, the Monitor took some steps forward in offering another opinion. For that they need to be congratulated. I imagine that has something to do with the new publisher and a fresh perspective.

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