The Blog

Coats Opposes Hagel

5:20 PM, Feb 1, 2013 • By DANIEL HALPER
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

Senator Hagel has long called for direct, unconditional talks with the Iranian regime – not to mention direct talks with Hamas, Hezbollah, and Syria as well. He has pressed that such talks should proceed without the backing gained from other, more forceful, credible options. This approach is far too weak to be effective and reveals a person less committed to results than this critical moment demands.

The second track of a comprehensive search for solution is sanctions. I have supported all legislative efforts to create and impose both unilateral and multilateral sanctions on Iran, leveraging similar commitments from our friends and allies when possible, and pursuing unilateral sanctions when necessary. Indeed, it has been our willingness to impose sanctions by unilateral action that arguably has stiffened the spine of the international community and made increasingly harsh multilateral sanctions regimes possible.

Senator Hagel does not see it that way. He repeatedly voted against sanctions legislation, even opposing those aimed at the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, which at the time was bombing our troops in Iraq. He has long argued against sanctions imposed by the United States absent an international judgment by others that we are doing the right thing. He has not seen the connection between American firmness, determination, and leadership – and international acquiescence.

It is his instinct to give a veto to Brussels or Paris, or even Moscow and Beijing. I cannot support the nomination of a secretary of defense who shows such deference to foreign politicians. 

Senator Hagel has famously agreed publically that the United States is a bully. I assume that our reliance on unilateral sanctions when necessary may fit his definition of bully. I cannot possibly agree.

The third track of a comprehensive approach to this crucial problem is open discussion of, and early preparation for, military options. It has become increasingly clear over the past several years that diplomacy and sanctions alone are too weak to compel Iranian compliance with the international community's demands. 

A frank discussion of military options and preparations give credibility to the rest of our strategy. No one should suppose that these steps mean anything other than preparing the ground for the logical, necessary access to measures of last resort. 

At the Bipartisan Policy Center I participated in an exhaustive analysis of all the means and consequences of potential military action against Iran's nuclear weapons program.  There were no war advocates among us. Nevertheless, if it is true that a nuclear weapons-capable Iran is "unacceptable," as now four U.S. presidents have publically declared, then our nation and the international community as a whole must see with vivid clarity what measures remain should the first two tracks fail.

And the Iranian regime must be especially clear-eyed and non-delusional about those potential consequences should it not change its behavior.  Indeed, to give the diplomatic and sanctions tracks the essential credibility they require, the military option must be entirely believable, if as the president has repeatedly said, Iranian possession of nuclear arms capability is “unacceptable.”

I cannot conclude that Senator Hagel views the military option in this credible way.  Indeed, he has maintained in recent years that, “a military strike against Iran is not a viable, feasible, responsible option.”

Many of us have examined Senator Hagel’s on-the-record comments carefully and parsed each one to determine what his views on these important subjects actually are.  In the meantime, he has hastened to apparently amend the record so that his advocates can point to more recent statements that seem to negate the earlier ones.

But this is not a court of law and we are not looking for admissible evidence. Rather we are defining the basis for our own judgments on how the full pattern of words and behavior define the views and likely future behavior of the nominee. 

I have concluded that when Senator Hagel pays lip service now to the contention that “all options are on the table,” it does not reveal his real, instinctive, and strong disinclination to consider military force if all other options fail and it becomes necessary.

For me, that is very nearly a disqualifying position for a secretary of defense.   

Recent Blog Posts

The Weekly Standard Archives

Browse 20 Years of the Weekly Standard

Old covers