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Ayotte could learn from Hagel

Last week, Sen. Chuck Hagel, President Obama’s nominee for secretary of defense, faced confirmation hearings before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Instead of asking serious questions regarding our nation’s security, Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte attempted to discredit a negotiated resolution to the issue of a nuclear Iran. In so doing, she not only added her voice to the chorus of those trying to smear Hagel, she also undermined Obama’s efforts to achieve a diplomatic end to Iran’s nuclear program. Her behavior failed to serve New Hampshire – or our national security.

To further American interests, as Hagel has repeatedly argued, it is important to consider all options, including sanctions, diplomacy and military action. Most American experts on Iran believe that war would fuel anti-Western sentiment that would embolden the current regime and its nuclear program while only delaying its ability to obtain a nuclear weapon by a few years. Any military action could spark a full-scale war with Iran, which would require sacrifice in lives and dollars, and also seriously jeopardize the security of one of our greatest allies, Israel.

It’s comforting to know that the person the president has put forward to lead the Department of Defense fully understands the consequences of a war with Iran – and is willing to engage in a thorough and thoughtful discussion of what actions will and will not protect our country’s national interests, as well as the interests of our allies. It’s disheartening and disconcerting when Ayotte attacks Hagel for even daring to acknowledge the complexities involved in attacking Iran – and for supporting exhaustive diplomatic efforts.

Ayotte continued to neglect important issues through her questions on Hagel’s position on the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability and Divestment Act of 2008, which he blocked in subcommittee. Hagel pointed out that the George W. Bush administration did not want the bill to be voted on, as the administration had already entered into negotiations with Russia and the United Nations Security Council to place multilateral sanctions on Iran that would be more effective. Ayotte pushed forward with more than a hint of condescension, refusing to acknowledge Hagel’s legitimate response or to consider the effectiveness of multilateral action against Iran.

Many have noted that at Hagel’s confirmation hearings, Israel and Iran were each mentioned more than 170 times – more than all other foreign countries combined (including Iraq and Afghanistan). Our relationship with Israel and our efforts to prevent a nuclear armed Iran are of course of vital importance to American interests. As a pro-Israel student activist, however, I wish that the Senate would consider more than just routine, over-the-top saber-rattling when it comes to the Iranian situation.

This lack of rigor does Israel no favors.

Apparently unbeknownst to many self-proclaimed Israel protectors in the Senate, the Israeli military and intelligence community have cautioned that military action against Iran would be detrimental to Israeli security. This past September, Meir Dagan, former head of Israel’s national intelligence agency and highly respected security thinker, told 60 Minutes, “An attack on Iran now before exploring all other approaches is not the right way how to do it.”

Hagel has repeatedly demonstrated that he understands foreign affairs and Israel’s legitimate concerns. He has shown a willingness to think independently and carefully, rather than to play politics with American and Israeli lives – and with the future of the Middle East. If only the same could be said of Ayotte.

I have been involved in Jewish life and pro-Israel advocacy at Dartmouth College since my freshman year. As vice president at our Hillel, I often find myself in rigorous conversations on how best to ensure Israel’s future. War in the region must be the very last resort. Hagel understands war’s costs – and that’s why he is such a fierce advocate of using all diplomatic means at our disposal.

Ayotte could learn from Hagel. I hope that, in future foreign policy discussions, she and her colleagues will choose to eschew partisan grandstanding and instead engage seriously and pragmatically with American security issues. Our future may depend on it.

(Asher Mayerson is studying economics and mathematics at Dartmouth College.)

Legacy Comments5

Yes, Kelly Ayotte who is on track for greatness can learn a lot from mediocre Hagel. Don't be like the go along to get along no principles loser like Hagel.

No principles? I disagree. It's because Hagel is a man of integrity and principle that he bucked his party and opposed the Iraq surge. Ayotte is the one who so far is demonstrating little in the way of independence from her party's misguided "principles". Hagel has the makings of a good Pentagon head. Here's hoping he surrounds himself with good managers who will make sensible cuts in the Defense budget.

The readers should also note that the Hagel testimony on Capitol Hill was one of the most monumental colossal embarrassments in the history of congressional hearings....every reader would do themselves a favor to google it.

Excellent column. Tightly reasoned and very well written.


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