WASHINGTON (CBSNewYork) — The Senate on Thursday grilled the President Barack Obama’s hand-picked choice to lead the Pentagon, former senator Chuck Hagel.
When Hagel walked into the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing there were handshakes and even a hug, but the warm reception was short lived, CBS 2’s Marcia Kramer reported.
Hagel, a Vietnam War veteran, ran into a buzz saw from fellow Vietnam vet, Sen. John McCain over the troop surge in Iraq in 2007.
“I want to know whether you were right or wrong,” McCain said, adding later, “Will you please answer the question? Were you correct or incorrect when you said the surge would be the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam, yes or no?”
“Well, I’m not going to give you a yes or no answer,” Hagel responded.
And so it went for Hagel as he tried to answer criticism of his past statements on a variety of topics, including Israel and Iran.
He said he is fully committed to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and would be a staunch defender of Israel.
“I will ensure our friend and ally Israel maintains its qualitative military edge in the region,” Hagel said.
President Obama picked Hagel, 66, to replace out-going Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. If he is confirmed he would be the first enlisted man to become defense secretary.
“It would be a positive message for our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines in harm’s way around the world,” said Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.).
Much of the opposition to Hagel’s nomination is coming from fellow Republicans.
“On many of the security challenges facing the U.S.’s interests around the world senator Hagel’s record is deeply troubling and out of the mainstream. Too often it seems he’s willing to subscribe to a world view that is predicated on appeasing our adversaries while shunning our friends,” said Sen. Jim Inhofe, the ranking member of the Armed Services Committee.
Hagel was repeatedly questioned about a study he authorized last May calling for an 80 percent reduction U.S. nuclear weapons and the elimination of all nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missiles. Hagel defended himself by saying it wasn’t realistic to consider unilateral reductions.
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