Omaha World-Herald, January 20, 2013
By Paul Goodsell and Joseph Morton, World-Herald Staff Writers
Former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel faces a Jan. 31 confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee for his appointment by the president as secretary of defense.
During his 12 years in the Senate — and the four years since he left office — Hagel has taken positions on a number of issues related to military policy.
Much of the public focus on Hagel recently has been on his initial support of and later opposition to the Iraq War, his caution about military intervention in Iran over its nuclear program, and the depth of his support for Israel. Senators are sure to ask Hagel about those issues.
But here are some additional areas that could come up:
It might seem odd that abortion rights could be an issue for the person running the Pentagon, but they are.
The defense authorization bill that was just signed into law includes a provision written by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., that extends insurance coverage of the medical procedure for servicewomen in the cases of rape and incest. Supporters of the provision say the previous funding ban forced women in uniform, especially those serving overseas, to seek unsafe alternatives after being sexually assaulted.
When he first ran for the Senate, Hagel initially said he opposed abortion except to save the life of the mother or in cases of rape and incest. He soon dropped those exceptions for rape and incest, however, saying that such cases were so rare as to be irrelevant.
He voted more than once against proposals to allow U.S. servicewomen access to abortions. Still, his views might have changed over time.
When Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., recently announced his support for Hagel’s nomination, he noted that Hagel had assured him of his support for the Shaheen amendment.
And in a letter to Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., Hagel wrote that he would fully implement all laws protecting the reproductive rights of female service members.
‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’
Hagel previously supported the Clinton-era policy of not allowing homosexuals to serve openly in the military, telling the New York Times in 1999 that “the U.S. armed forces aren’t some social experiment.”
Hagel reiterated his support for the policy as recently as 2007. He opposed a constitutional ban on gay marriage but supported state-level efforts to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
Also, 15 years ago, he made comments about an openly gay ambassadorial nominee and was criticized for what he said.
He has since apologized for those comments and he has assured Schumer and Boxer he will fully implement the repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which he described in a letter to Boxer as discriminatory.
He also wrote that he would work to extend equal benefits to all service members.
As a senator, Hagel regularly voted for Defense Department spending bills. But he recently has said the Pentagon has room to cut, especially as the U.S. winds down the war in Afghanistan.
“The Defense Department, I think, in many ways, has been bloated,” he told the Financial Times in September 2011. “So I think the Pentagon needs to be pared down. I don’t think our military has really looked at themselves strategically, critically, in a long, long time.”
Hagel co-wrote an updated GI Bill that expanded educational benefits for military veterans.
The measure, which he put forward with Sen. James Webb, D-Va., calls for paying the full cost of tuition for veterans at public universities in each state, as well as a housing stipend and $1,000 a year for fees and books. Service members who serve at least three years qualify for full benefits under the bill, which passed in 2008.
Hagel said the expanded benefits would help returning veterans be more productive and spur the U.S. economy.
“The benefits these guys were getting with the current program were not near enough to cover just a public education,” Hagel said at the time. “It’s the right thing to do. You take care of your people.”
Hagel has sought higher pay for military personnel. In 2008, for example, his efforts led to the passage of a defense bill that included a 3.9 percent pay raise, a half-percentage point more than President George W. Bush sought.
In 2007, Hagel pushed for limits on how often U.S. service members could be deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan.
Hagel argued that frequent and repeated deployments during the Iraq War were putting at risk the all-volunteer force that took nearly 30 years to build up after what he called “the disaster of Vietnam.”
“We are abusing our all-voluntary force in a dangerous and irresponsible way. We are abusing our people. We are abusing their families,” Hagel said.
The proposal, introduced by Hagel and Webb, would have limited deployments to a maximum of one year for Army, Army Reserve or Army National Guard troops.
For active-duty soldiers and Marines, the minimum time between deployments would have to equal or be greater than the length of their previous deployment. Reserve and National Guard members could be deployed for no more than one year within the previous five. But the senators were unsuccessful in winning passage of the deployment limits.
When he announced his endorsement of Bob Kerrey’s Senate run last fall, Hagel talked about the many deployments of U.S. service members.
“What Bob and I went through, yeah, it was not good. But what these people, these young men and women — four, five and six tours of duty … is there any wonder that we’re ruining our Defense Department? Record suicides, record divorces, record (spousal abuse), record sexual incidents, record foreclosures on houses, record PTSD. Well, you can’t push people like that. You can’t just say ‘You’re going back again for another 12 months. What about your family? What about your spouse? What about your children?’”
Hagel co-sponsored the American Missile Protection Act in 1998. But the bill stalled in the Senate, falling one vote short of the 60 needed to end debate. He supported Bush’s request for billions in funding for a national missile defense system.
Hagel has advocated for engagement and trade with China as a way to encourage that country to respect human rights and move to a more open, democratic society.
“There are those who call for a new cold war with China based on a policy of economic, political and military containment, but this kind of belligerence would be a disaster for our two nations and for the world,” Hagel wrote in his 2008 book, “America — Our Next Chapter: Tough Questions, Straight Answers.”
In that 2008 book, Hagel wrote: “The military resources that we can bring to bear are vast, but they are also limited; they must always be deployed responsibly and strategically, and in new ways. Intelligence is the one instrument of power that can unravel plans for terrorist attacks before they are operational. Intelligence can identify these terrorist strongholds and guide us in mounting precise surgical strikes. This, in turn, calls for a transformation of our force structure that would include more special operations capabilities, more mobility, more linguistics specialists, more satellite intelligence and cyber resources.”
N. Korea’s nuclear threat
In 2005, Hagel supported the idea of resuming talks with North Korea, saying the United States needed to approach the issue “a little more imaginatively.”
“I don’t think the United States can stand outside the ring on these negotiations, whether it’s with North Korea or Iran, and then have our surrogate partners in there working directly,” Hagel said in an interview with ABC.
In 2006, Hagel took a similar approach in urging diplomatic means to deal with what he called “a dangerous situation.” He said it was too early to talk about using a military strike to knock out the ballistic missile that North Korea was planning to test.
Hagel said some type of “surgical military strike” might make sense at some point. “But I don’t think we’re at that point yet. We need to remember, just like Iraq: Once you attack a country, the consequences that flow from that are uncontrollable, unknowable and far worse than you can predict.”
U.S. nuclear weapons
In 1999, Hagel joined fellow Republicans in voting to reject a treaty banning all underground nuclear testing. He said he voted against the treaty because he wasn’t convinced of its verifiability and because he worried about its effect on the reliability and safety of the U.S. nuclear arsenal.
But Hagel also said at the time it was a vote he didn’t want to cast, saying the rare treaty rejection would undermine U.S. leadership on nuclear nonproliferation issues. He favored postponing the vote, but a group of conservative GOP senators forced the issue.
In a May 2012 report for the advocacy group Global Zero, Hagel and others called for sharp reductions in the number of U.S. nuclear weapons beyond the cuts already planned. The report argued that the U.S. needs no more than 900 total nuclear weapons (half deployed, half in storage) for security in a post-Cold War world.
The U.S. and Russia have an estimated 5,000 nuclear weapons each. Those numbers are supposed to be reduced to 1,550 deployed strategic warheads by 2018.
Phi Beta Iota: A balanced honest man.
Hagel, Chuck (2008), America: Our Next Chapter LP: Tough Questions, Straight Answers (HarperLuxe)