Pentagon Readies Hagel For Confirmation Fight
McCain criticizes Hagel's 'worldview,' but hopes friendship still there
January 09, 2013Defense Secretary nominee Chuck Hagel wasted no time in starting formal preparations for what is expected to be a bruising Senate confirmation fight.One day after his nomination by President Barack Obama, the former Nebraska senator spent Tuesday at the Pentagon meeting key officials and settling in. There were no official briefings, officials said.
Hagel had dinner with outgoing secretary Leon Panetta on Monday night. Officials would not discuss what they talked about, only saying that they were served a Midwestern menu of steak and corn chowder -- a nod to Hagel's Nebraska roots.
Over the next few weeks, Hagel and the team assigned to prep him for the Armed Services Committee hearing will spend much of their time in an area resembling a generic cubical farm. Hagel gets his own office.
A decorated Vietnam veteran, Hagel enlisted in the Army so there is some familiarity with military training. But readying for what is expected to be a tough political battle for confirmation requires a different basic training.
Pentagon spokesman George Little said Hagel will receive briefings on military and administration policies, including the military budget and current operations and capabilities. Defense officials said he would also be briefed on personnel and military readiness issues.
A joint military and civilian transition team from various offices will provide key information and talking points.
Jeremy Bash, Panetta's chief of staff, is Hagel's point man.
Hagel, if confirmed, will take over a Pentagon operation very different from that run by his predecessors since the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States.
The next defense secretary will oversee the winding down the war in Afghanistan as well as a smaller troop presence there once the bulk of U.S. forces head home in 2014.
He will face large scale budget cuts imposed by the Obama administration and the possibility of bigger spending reductions, if proposed deficit reduction measures take hold in Congress.
Hagel will also face Iran and questions about its nuclear program as well the Syrian civil war and the presence of chemical stockpiles there.
McCain Criticizes Hagel
In 2000, Chuck Hagel and John McCain were both serving as Republican senators, each with a reputation as a Vietnam War hero unafraid of bucking his own party.
That year, Hagel broke with most of his fellow GOP senators to back McCain's bid for the GOP presidential nomination, which he ultimately lost to George W. Bush. While introducing McCain's speech at the 2000 GOP convention in Philadelphia, Hagel lauded the Arizona lawmaker as "a great Republican (and) a great American leader."
In 2006, while preparing for another run for the White House, McCain told the New York Times: "I'd be honored to have Chuck with me in any capacity. He'd make a great secretary of state."
But Hagel didn't endorse McCain that time around, and now, he's preparing to become secretary of defense for President Barack Obama, McCain's 2008 opponent. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the two are no longer each other's cheerleader.
"My biggest concern is his overall attitude about the United States, our role in the world, particularly in the Middle East, and whether we should reduce the Pentagon further, but mainly, his general, overall worldview," McCain said Tuesday on CNN's "The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer."
Chief among McCain's concerns is Hagel's 2007 position opposing the surge of troops in Iraq, which McCain supported. McCain said Hagel told him the surge would be "the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam."
"I've never heard him contradict that statement or change his position about the surge," McCain said, labeling Hagel's description of the troop increase "a gross misconception of America's roles there and in the world."
He also took issue with votes Hagel cast in the Senate blocking a set of sanctions against Iran, which other Republicans have homed in on as Hagel prepares for confirmation hearings that are set to begin later this month.
"Basically he took a view of the Iranian threat, which I don't think has been justified by events that have followed," McCain said.
But what about the friendship forged in shared battles, both in Vietnam and on Capitol Hill?
"The friendship, I hope, is still there," McCain said. "But our views began to diverge rather dramatically about the role of the United States in the world."
"I respect, admire, and call him a friend, but I have very serious questions about whether he will serve in the way that I think serve America's best national interests," McCain added. "I want to have hearings; I would like to hear him make his case and I will reserve judgment."