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Hagel To Face Tough Questions on Iraq, Nuke Cuts

Jan. 22, 2013 - 03:14PM   |  
By JOHN T. BENNETT   |   Comments
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Two prominent GOP senators say Republicans want answers from Chuck Hagel, U.S. President Barack Obama’s pick for defense secretary, on his endorsement of nuclear arms reductions and criticisms of the Iraq war.

Hagel is continuing to meet with key senators ahead of his Jan. 31 Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) confirmation hearing. In fact, he is slated to huddle on Jan. 22 with Sen. John McCain of Arizona, an influential senior SASC Republican.

During that one-on-one meeting and during the much-anticipated confirmation hearing, McCain wants Hagel to explain his 2006 criticism of the Iraq War, waged by the administration of President George W. Bush. McCain called Hagel’s criticism of the Bush administration’s so-called surge of forces into Iraq “bizarre.” He wants to know why Hagel called the surge, as McCain summarized for reporters “the worst blunder since Vietnam.”

McCain, as well as other Republicans, some defense analysts and Pentagon officials, claim “the surge was successful,” he said.

Another line of questioning facing Hagel, a former GOP senator from Nebraska, will focus on several studies he has approved endorsing reductions to the U.S. nuclear arms arsenal.

Hagel and others, including most congressional Democrats, believe Washington could substantially shrink its nuclear arsenal, generating billions in annual savings while not hindering U.S. national security, they claim.

One such proponent is the man who will run Hagel’s confirmation hearing: Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich.

“We don’t need the number” of nuclear warheads currently in the U.S. arsenal, Levin told reporters the same day.

“We can have significant reductions ... and stay secure,” Levin said, adding that U.S. national security strategy has featured “an over-reliance on nuclear weapons in the last 20 years, since the Cold War ended.”

The U.S. State Department last April released data that showed the U.S. possesses about 815 intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched ballistic missiles and heavy bombers deployed. Russia, the successor to America’s Cold War foe, the Soviet Union, has around 495, according to the State Department.

But many congressional Republicans, especially those on the hawkish House Armed Services Committee, would rather swell the U.S. nuclear fleet.

The issue will be prominent not only during Hagel’s confirmation process, but in coming years as White House and Pentagon officials trim the Pentagon’s annual budget after a decade at war.

Asked whether he expects any Senate Republicans to vote for Hagel’s nomination, Levin replied: “I haven’t seen any.” Democrats have a 55-45 majority in the upper chamber; Republicans have yet to signal whether they will threaten to filibuster Hagel’s confirmation vote on the Senate floor.

It would take 60 votes to override such a move, meaning Senate Democratic leaders would need to find at least five GOP members to cross the aisle — and possibly more if hawkish or pro-Israel Democrats opt to oppose Hagel’s nomination.

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