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But Hagel years ago angered many Republicans by breaking with his party over the handling of the Iraq war.
It was one of several contentious chapters of modern U.S. history that surfaced during the session, from the Vietnam War, where Hagel served as an infantryman and was wounded, to President Ronald Reagan’s call for nuclear disarmament.
Hagel also was questioned on his view of the Pentagon budget. He is known as an advocate for tighter spending controls.
WRONG MAN FOR THE JOB
Even before Hagel started speaking, James Inhofe, the panel’s senior Republican, called him “the wrong person to lead the Pentagon at this perilous and consequential time.”
“Senator Hagel’s record is deeply troubling and out of the mainstream. Too often it seems he is willing to subscribe to a worldwide view that is predicated on appeasing our adversaries while shunning our friends,” Inhofe said as the hearing opened.
McCain’s harsh attitude toward Hagel - who he also singled out for opposing Obama’s surge of forces in Afghanistan - was a far cry from their past, warm ties. McCain campaigned for Hagel in 1996, and Hagel was national co-chairman of the Arizona Republican’s unsuccessful 2000 presidential bid.
On Thursday, McCain said that concerns about Hagel’s qualifications ran deep.
“Our concerns pertain to the quality of your professional judgment and your world view on critical areas of national security, including security in the Middle East,” he said.
In the entire Senate, which would vote on Hagel if he is cleared by the committee, only one of the 45 Republicans - Mississippi’s Thad Cochran - has said he backs Hagel.
Senator Marco Rubio of Florida on Thursday joined the list of Republicans who said they will vote against Hagel.
In written responses to wide-ranging questions submitted by lawmakers ahead of the hearing, Hagel said that if confirmed, he would ensure that the military is prepared to strike Iran if necessary but stressed the need to be “cautious and certain” when contemplating the use of force.
Hagel told lawmakers all options must be on the table to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon - language used to suggest the possibility of a nuclear strike.
“My policy is one of prevention, and not one of containment,” he said.
Hagel also voiced support for a steady U.S. drawdown in Afghanistan, pledged to ensure equal treatment for women and homosexuals in the military and assured the committee that the United States would maintain an “unshakeable” commitment to Israel’s security. (Additional reporting by David Alexander; Editing by Warren Strobel and Jackie Frank)