Hallelujah! Another Chuck Hagel Conversion, on Nuclear 'Zero'

Hallelujah! Another Chuck Hagel Conversion, on Nuclear 'Zero'

Does Chuck Hagel believe anything? The Washington Free Beacon reported on Friday that former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE), facing a tough confirmation battle as President Obama’s nominee to be the next Secretary of Defense, has recanted his recorded belief in global nuclear disarmament. 

Hagel had joined an initiative entitled “Global Zero,” and is a member of the board of directors of another anti-nuclear group, Ploughshares, which has also funded pro-Iran lobby groups committed to “non-military” approaches. 

Hagel signed a Global Zero pledge calling for the elimination of nuclear weapons, and was part of a Global Zero commissions in 2012 that recommended radical cuts to the U.S. nuclear arsenal. In addition, the Free Beacon notes, arms control advocates have come out in support of Hagel’s nomination, including the president of Ploughshares.

But now, Hagel insists, all of that is past. The Free Beacon reports: 

Sen. Chuck Hagel backed down this week from previously held positions on nuclear arms cuts during meetings with senators who are considering his nomination to be defense secretary in an apparent effort to sway those concerned about his liberal anti-nuclear views.

Hagel has told senators he is no longer a staunch supporter of the nuclear weapons views of retired Marine Corps Gen. James Cartwright, who authored an anti-nuclear weapons report sponsored by the international disarmament group Global Zero.

“Hagel has thrown Cartwright under the bus about the Global Zero [report] in his meetings with senators,” said a congressional aide familiar with the closed-door sessions.

An administration official working with Hagel on the confirmation disputed the notion the former senator is changing his views during the meetings. 

“He is answering questions and clarifying his long-held beliefs…about our nuclear arsenal,” the official said. 

The official said Hagel believes that as long as there are nuclear threats the United States needs a safe, strong and ready nuclear arsenal and supports keeping all legs of the nuclear triad–land-based and sea-based missiles and bombers.

Hagel’s sudden recantation of his anti-nuclear beliefs was foreshadowed in last week’s confirmation hearings for President Obama’s choice for Secretary of State, Sen. John Kerry (D-MA). Kerry was asked about Hagel’s views by the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN). Kerry defended Hagel and said that his own belief was that nuclear arms were still a necessary deterrent.

In addition to nuclear disarmament, Hagel has changed his views on other topics as he has lobbied hard for confirmation. He now apparently supports sanctions on Iran; the designation of Hezbollah as a terrorist organization; the implementation of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”; and the availability of abortion for female members of the armed forces. He has also expressed regret for anti-gay and anti-Jewish language he used in the past.

Hagel’s reversals were anticipated weeks ago by Daily Beast reporter Eli Lake, who noted that Hagel had changed his mind repeatedly over the course of his career, as political circumstances changed. Most famously, he voted for the Iraq War and then became one of its most prominent–and to the left, most beloved–public critics.

No doubt Hagel’s new positions are better than his old ones. He has several more to go: his support for direct negotiations with Hamas; his opposition to Israel’s self-defense against rocket attacks; his refusal to accept climate change; and, most important of all, his opposition to military force against Iran as a last resort. He still has a few days left.

The question is: do we want a man without convictions to lead the nation’s defenses?