Chuck Hagel, President Barack Obama’s defense secretary nominee who has come under fire for his record on Israel, mistakenly expressed support for a U.S. policy of “containment” in dealing with the Iranian nuclear threat at his Senate confirmation hearing on Thursday.
“I’ve just been handed a note that I misspoke and said I supported the president’s position on ‘containment,’” Hagel went on to say. “If I said that, I meant to say that obviously—his position on containment—we don’t have a position on containment.”
U.S. Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) then intervened, saying, “Just to make sure your correction is clear, we do have a position on containment—which is we do not favor containment.”
Responding to U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), who questioned Hagel on a 2007 speech he gave the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in which he said “the strategy of containment remain[s] relevant today” regarding Iran, Hagel said “I don’t have the speech in front of me.”
“I think there was more to it,” Hagel added.
Hagel’s initial comment supporting containment came after he had read from a different speech, in which he stated that he was “committed to the president’s view that the United States should take no options off the table in our efforts to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.”
“What should we believe? What he read from the page or what he said later on?” Boaz Bismuth asked in an oped for Israel Hayom, adding that “Hagel perhaps ‘slipped’ at his Senate hearing—but his appointment will be a slip up for the administration.”
Hagel expressed regret for the infamous comment he made to former Middle East negotiator Aaron David Miller in 2008 that “The Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here.” Hagel said he should have instead used the term “pro-Israel lobby.”
“I’m sorry and I regret it,” Hagel said. “On the use of ‘intimidation,’ I should have used ‘influence,’ I think would have been more appropriate.”
U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer (R-NB) said Hagel’s ideas are “extreme” and “far to the left” of Obama’s. Hagel chairs the Atlantic Council think tank, which in December published a column titled “Israel’s Apartheid Policy” as well as a policy paper predicting that Iran “should be viewed as a potential natural partner” for the U.S.
Hagel did not sign various pro-Israel letters backed by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) while he served in the Senate, but did sign a 2009 letter asking Obama to directly negotiate with Hamas.
In his opening statement on Thursday, however, Hagel said “No one individual vote, no one individual quote or no one individual statement defines me, my beliefs, or my record.”
“My overall worldview has never changed: that America has and must maintain the strongest military in the world, that we must lead the international community to confront threats and challenges together, and that we must use all tools of American power to protect our citizens and our interests,” he said.
A video of Hagel’s comments can be viewed below.