Chuck Hagel grilled at Senate hearing

Chuck Hagel grilled at Senate hearing

Chuck Hagel grilled at Senate hearing

Former US Sen Hagel arrives before the Senate Armed Services Committee for his confirmation hearing to become the next secretary of defense. AFP photo

The Vietnam War veteran tapped to lead the Pentagon, Chuck Hagel, came under a withering attack from Republican critics on Jan. 31 as he struggled to explain his stance on Israel and Iran.

Hagel endured hours of relentless grilling at his confirmation hearing, with Republican senators citing his blunt comments over the years to portray him as naive on national security and disloyal to Washington’s staunch ally, Israel.

The former Nebraska senator chose not to push back when confronted with his often sharply-worded remarks on Israel, saying he regretted referring to the “Jewish lobby” and its influence on Congress.

“I’ve already said I regret referencing the Jewish lobby,” Hagel told the Senate Armed Services Committee. “I should have said pro-Israel lobby.”

Outburst from McCain

As President Barack Obama’s choice to lead the Pentagon in his second term, Hagel may yet win Senate approval with help from majority Democrats, but he appeared to pick up little fresh Republican support as his hours-long hearing wore on. In one of the most heated exchanges, influential Sen. John McCain aggressively questioned Hagel, interrupting him and talking over him at times. He openly voiced frustration at Hagel’s failure to say plainly whether he was right or wrong to oppose the 2007 surge of U.S. troops in Iraq.

“Your refusal to answer whether you were right or wrong about it is going to have an impact on my judgment as to whether to vote for your confirmation or not,” McCain said.

Hagel, who like McCain is a decorated Vietnam War veteran, declined to offer a simple yes or no answer, responding: “I would defer to the judgment of history to sort that out.”

Hagel also has said military action should be a last resort and has sometimes expressed impatience with Israel and opposed some unilateral sanctions on Iran. But Hagel sought to reassure lawmakers, saying he was ready to back military action if necessary against Iran or other adversaries. “I am fully committed to the president’s goal of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, and as I’ve said in the past many times, all options must be on the table to achieve that goal,” he said.