In a Nov. 8, 2007 speech to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, then-Sen. Chuck Hagel likened the U.S. to a "schoolyard bully," adding that none of the presidential candidates in the 2008 race were "speaking to the great challenges of our time" because they were competing to take a hard line on Iran's nuclear program.
"Rather than acting like a nation riddled with the insecurities of a schoolyard bully, we ought to carry ourselves with the confidence that should come from the dignity of our heritage, the experience of our history and from the strength of our humanity, not from the power of our military," the Secretary of Defense nominee said.
Hagel argued that the U.S. should engage Iran, rather than pressuring Iran through sanctions and the threat of military force. He repeated--almost verbatim--a suggestion he had made earlier in the year, at a now-famous speech at Rutgers University, that the U.S. open a consulate in Tehran to "facilitate people-to-people exchanges."
Hagel's criticisms of the U.S. presidential candidates' hard line on Iran--including Republican John McCain, and Democrats Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, and Barack Obama--came after Obama had offered in July 2007 to meet the leadership of Iran, among other rogue enemy states "without preconditions."
The CSIS speech came up during Hagel's confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, when Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) asked Hagel about his suggestion that "the strategy of containment remain[s] relevant today." Hagel replied that he no longer though containment was an option, but that it "doesn't make any difference what I think."
The "schoolyard bully" statement was not raised at the Senate hearing, and has apparently only been referenced twice in the last few months, both times on Twitter, by accounts affiliated with the Republican Jewish Coalition, which is campaigning against Hagel's confirmation as Secretary of Defense. It has otherwise escaped notice.
The prepared text of Hagel's remarks is available online, and was re-published in January 2008 in the USA Today magazine. The speech as delivered, including the question-and-answer period that followed, are available both in audio and video form at the CSIS website. During the question-and-answer period, Hagel clarified that the military option on Iran was "always" available, but that the U.S. should not lead with it. "I don't think you lead with threatening a World War III," Hagel said, though it was unclear who had done so.
Hagel's "schoolyard bully" remark parallels an incident during his appearance on Al-Jazeera in 2009, when a caller described America's image as that of a "bully." Hagel, who replied that "her observation is a good one," was asked about the interview during his confirmation hearing Jan. 31 before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
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