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Monday, January 28, 2013

Dear Senator Hagel

The Weekly Standard posts a devastating letter from Senator David Vitter (R-La) to Chuck Hagel. You can bet that many of these questions will come up at Hagel's confirmation hearing on Tuesday (Hat Tip: Noah P).
With regard to Iran, you told the Lincoln Journal Star just two weeks ago that you “have not supported unilateral sanctions because, when it is us alone, they don’t work and they just isolate the United States.”  You continued that, “United Nations sanctions are working.  When we just decree something, that doesn’t work.”  One week later, your letter to Senator Boxer makes no mention of your previously expressed beliefs that unilateral sanctions do not work, that they isolate the United States, or that United Nations sanctions are working.  Instead, you suggest in your letter that further unilateral sanctions against Iran “may be necessary.”
I am concerned that in a span of just a few days, your views on Iran sanctions appear to have changed three times – first opposing Iran sanctions altogether, then opposing just unilateral sanctions, and now supporting all sanctions. 
Retracting your positions based solely upon public criticism of your record raises serious questions on issues that are critical to national defense.  If you now claim to support unilateral sanctions, why did you vote against renewal of the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act in 2001; why did you refuse to cosponsor the Iran Counter Proliferation Act in 2007; why did you vote against the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act (CISADA) in 2008; and why you put a hold on CISADA in 2008 after it cleared the Senate Banking Committee over your opposition?
Furthermore, I am concerned by a subtle but critically important statement you made to Senator Boxer – that further sanctions may be needed because of Iran’s “rejection of diplomatic overtures,” rather than because of Iran’s continued enrichment activities in violation of multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions.  The implication of this statement is that if the Iranians merely agreed to sit down and talk, you would no longer support sanctions.  Senator, the objective of our policy should not be talks – the objective should be a complete halt to all Iranian enrichment activities.  Why do you believe sanctions should only be tied to “Iran’s continued rejection of diplomatic overtures” and not to the status of its nuclear program?
Separately on Iran, I am struck by what is missing in your letter to Senator Boxer – that being any comment regarding the need for a credible military threat to deter Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability.  During a visit to Pakistan in 2006, you declared that “a military strike against Iran, a military option, is not a viable, feasible, responsible option.”  This puts you at odds with 77 Senators who signed a letter to President Obama last month, urging him to reiterate his “readiness to take military action against Iran if it continues its efforts to acquire a nuclear weapon.”  I am concerned that your stance sends a clear signal of weakness to the Iranian regime at a time when we cannot afford such signals. 
You have also failed to address many other concerns regarding your record and past statements related to Iran.  Your opposition to designating Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps as a terrorist entity – at a time when the Guard was murdering American soldiers in Iraq – appears indefensible.  Furthermore, your past statements, including in 2007 when you said, “Continued hostile relations between the United States and Iran will have the effect of isolating the United States,” and in 2008 when you wrote that, “America’s refusal to recognize Iran’s status as a legitimate power does not decrease Iran’s influence, but rather increases it,” leaves the impression that your view toward Iran is out-of-step with mainstream America and current U.S. strategy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
With regard to Hezbollah and Israel’s 2006 Lebanon War, I am concerned by your attempt to paper over your record.  In July 2006, almost immediately after the Israeli military began to respond to Hezbollah’s kidnapping and murder of Israeli soldiers, you called on President Bush to demand an immediate ceasefire.  At the time you said, “This madness must stop” and you accused Israel of “the systematic destruction of an American friend – the country and people of Lebanon.”  You continued on to accuse Israel of carrying out a “sickening slaughter” in Lebanon and said that the U.S. relationship with Israel “need not and cannot be at the expense of our Arab and Muslim relationships.”  In my view, your attempt in your letter to Senator Boxer to present your views during that period as resembling support of Israel, in any way, is difficult to comprehend.  I would rather you just issue an apology.
In your letter, you imply that you have been unequivocal in your belief that Hezbollah is a terrorist organization.  However, I remain concerned that while you have given speeches directed toward Hezbollah’s actions, you failed to do so in your official capacity while a U.S. Senator.  One example is your refusal to sign a letter urging the European Union to designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organization.  Also, your letter to Senator Boxer fails to include the necessary statement that you believe that the European Union should do so today.  Both the House and Senate have spoken with wide bipartisanship on this critical issue.  I remain hopeful you will address these questions in the days ahead. 
Finally, I am concerned by the way you attempt to explain your much-reported comments regarding a “Jewish lobby” and your oath to the United States Constitution rather than to Israel.  As a non-Jewish Senator who strongly supports the State of Israel, let me assure you that my support is rooted in the shared values of our two democracies.  Let me further assure you that as a supporter of Israel who took the oath of office, I am offended by the suggestion that my support of Israel is somehow contrary to my Constitutional oath.
But more importantly, given the past weeks of back and forth, I do not believe you fully understand why your comments were so offensive to Jews and Gentiles alike.  Your comments do not get any better if you merely substitute “Israel lobby” for “Jewish lobby.”  Your statements clearly suggested the existence of a Jewish or Israel lobby that “intimidates” American leaders into supporting a foreign government’s interests over our own.  Whether they were intentional or not, your public comments echoed centuries-old anti-Semitic conspiracy theories of influence in government and dual loyalty.  Therefore, I urge you to publicly apologize for the totality of your comments.
Senator Hagel, I ask that prior to your Senate Armed Services hearing scheduled for January 31, 2012, you provide clear, written answers to the following:

Read it all.  And note that every question is connected to Israel and/or to the Iranian nuclear threat. There are many more objections to Hagel that could be raised (Iraq for starters).

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