Chuck Hagel, President Barack Obama’s pick to become the next U.S. defense secretary, has begun calling critics in the Senate in an attempt to clarify his views about how to deal with Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas before his upcoming nomination hearing.
The decorated Vietnam veteran’s Republican credentials have done little to rally support with his party, which he publicly split with as a senator by opposing the Iraq war during the Bush administration.
Hagel’s private calls to lawmakers and efforts by supporters to defend him publicly are part of what is likely to be a hard-fought battle over his nomination. Opponents tried for weeks to dissuade Obama from choosing the former Nebraska senator.
One prominent senator, Republican Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, predicted even before his nomination that Hagel, if confirmed, would be “the most antagonistic secretary of defense towards the State of Israel in our nation’s history.”
U.S. officials who have spoken with Hagel since he was nominated on Monday say he has been calling senators before confirmation hearings begin in the coming weeks. Current and former U.S. officials say he is particularly concerned with portrayals of his record on Iran. Critics accuse him of opposing sanctions and being satisfied with containing Tehran, as opposed to preventing it from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
Iran says its nuclear ambitions are peaceful.
“He feels that who he is, what he stands for and what his attitudes are have been misrepresented and distorted,” said Dennis Ross, a former top Obama Middle East adviser.
“What he said to me very clearly was that … he deeply believes that Iran does need to be prevented from having the bomb and that he doesn’t believe in containment.”