(Jan. 31, 2012) Former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel told the Senate Armed Services Committee today that his guiding principle is to make U.S. policy “worthy of our troops and their families and the sacrifices we ask them to make.”
In his opening statement at his confirmation hearing, Hagel, President Barack Obama’s choice to succeed retiring Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, said he supports the administration’s policies down the line.
Hagel, who served as an Army sergeant in Vietnam, stressed his own time in the military and his experiences as a veteran while reiterating his commitment to taking care of service members, veterans and their families.
Turning to the threats the United States faces, Hagel told the senators the transition in Afghanistan will be front and center on his to-do list if he’s confirmed.
“Discussions are ongoing about what the U.S. presence in Afghanistan will look like after 2014,” he said, adding that the United States will train Afghan forces post-2014 and will maintain a counterterrorism presence in the nation.
Terrorism remains a threat, Hagel said, and he vowed to keep the pressure on terrorist organizations wherever they try to establish themselves. Yemen, Somalia and North Africa are particular trouble spots, he told the Senate panel.
“At the Pentagon, that means continuing to invest in and build the tools to assist in that fight, such as special operations forces and new intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance technologies,” he added. “And it will mean working hand in hand with our partners across the national security and intelligence communities to confront these and other threats, especially the emerging threat of cyber warfare.”
Hagel also said he fully supports Obama’s goal of preventing Iran from developing nuclear arms and the means to deliver them.
“As I’ve said in the past, all options must be on the table to achieve that goal,” he said. “My policy is one of prevention, and not one of containment, and the president has made clear that is the policy of our government.”
As defense secretary, Hagel said, he would ensure the U.S. military is ready for any contingency in the region. He also would ensure Israel maintains its qualitative military edge in the region, he added, and supports continued funding and research for the Israeli Iron Dome defense system.
Hagel also told the senators he is committed to maintaining a modern, strong, safe, ready and effective U.S. nuclear arsenal.
On the looming threat of sequestration, deep, across-the-board spending cuts that will take effect March 1 unless Congress comes up with an alternative, Hagel said he agrees with Panetta that the plan to chop billions from the department is a bad idea.
“As someone who has run businesses, I know the uncertainty and turbulence of the current budget climate makes it much more difficult to manage the Pentagon’s resources,” he said. “If confirmed, I am committed to effectively and efficiently using every single taxpayer dollar, to maintaining the strongest military in the world, and to working with Congress to ensure the department has the resources it needs -- and that the disposition of those resources is accountable.”
Hagel pledged to continue implementing the 2011 repeal of the law that had barred openly gay service members from serving in the military, promising to do everything possible under current law to provide equal benefits to the families of all service members. He also pledged to continue Panetta’s work in opening more combat jobs to military women and fighting sexual assault in the military.