Once the hearing was under way, the Republican National Committee put out a news release titled, ‘‘Chuck Hagel is the Wrong Choice for Secretary of Defense,’’ and contending that he would weaken the nation’s military.
Responding specifically to attacks from outside GOP-leaning groups, Hagel said he was committed to Obama’s goal of ensuring that Iran does not obtain a nuclear weapon, and insisted that all options, including military force, are on the table.
‘‘My policy is one of prevention, and not one of containment — and the president has made clear that is the policy of our government,’’ Hagel said.
Under questioning, Hagel said he always supported multilateral sanctions against Iran, but acknowledged that he cast votes against unilateral sanctions on a case-by-case basis. He argued that in some cases, such as votes in 2001-2002, he was taking into account the concerns of Republican President George W. Bush.
He also countered with votes and letters against Iran and Hezbollah.
‘‘There’s a more complete record than just one or two or three or four’’ votes, Hagel said, insisting that he has been on the record many times saying Hamas and Hezbollah are terrorist organizations and Iran is a state sponsor of terrorism.
He also expressed support for maintaining a strong, modern nuclear arsenal, a position that has been challenged because of his support for the Global Zero organization’s recommendation of nuclear cuts.
‘‘We are not going to unilaterally disarm,’’ Hagel said.
The hearing was the first time Hagel publicly addresses the criticism that he is not sufficiently pro-Israel or tough enough on Iran. In the past, Hagel has questioned the efficacy of unilateral sanctions on Iran, arguing that penalties in conjunction with international partners made more sense. He has also been criticized for his comments about the influence of a ‘‘Jewish lobby’’ and his past view of gay rights.
He addressed several of the issues in a 112-page questionnaire to the committee in which he said his wartime experience would shape his decisions about using military force.
‘‘I understand what it is like to be a soldier in war,’’ wrote Hagel. ‘‘I also understand what happens when there is poor morale and discipline among the troops and a lack of clear objectives, intelligence and command and control from Washington. I believe that experience will help me as secretary of defense to ensure we maintain the best fighting force in the world, protect our men and women in uniform and ensure that we are cautious and certain when contemplating the use of force.’’