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Responding to those who have questioned his views on Israel, Iran and defense spending, former Sen. Chuck Hagel said Thursday at the opening of a Senate hearing on his nomination to be secretary of defense that:
"No one individual vote, quote, or statement defines me, my beliefs, or my record. My overall worldview has never changed: that America has and must maintain the strongest military in the world; that we must lead the international community to confront threats and challenges together; and that we must use all tools of American power to protect our citizens and our interests."
On specific issues, Hagel said:
-- "I am fully committed to the president's goal of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, and — as I've said in the past — all options must be on the table to achieve that goal."
-- "I will ensure our friend and ally Israel maintains its qualitative military edge in the region and will continue to support systems like Iron Dome, which is today saving Israeli lives from terrorist rocket attacks."
-- "If confirmed, I am committed to effectively and efficiently using every single taxpayer dollar; to maintaining the strongest military in the world; and to working with Congress to ensure the Department has the resources it needs – and that the disposition of those resources is accountable."
Hagel, a Republican from Nebraska, was formally introduced and endorsed by former senators Sam Nunn, D-Ga., and John Warner, R-Va.
At the start of the hearing, the committee's ranking Republican — Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma — said he will oppose Hagel's nomination because he believes the nominee has in the past supported policies that "diminish U.S. power and influence."
As we said earlier, this could be one of the more contentious nomination hearings for one of President Obama's cabinet choices. We'll watch for more news and update as needed.
Update at 5:10 p.m. ET. On Israel:
Of course, one of the most dramatic moments in the hearing came when Hagel was questioned about Israel. The New York Times describes the scene:
"Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, surprised the hearing with excerpts on a giant video screen from an interview Mr. Hagel gave to Al Jazeera in 2009. Although it was difficult to hear the short clips he provided, Mr. Cruz asserted that they showed Mr. Hagel agreeing with a caller who suggested that Israel had committed war crimes.
"'Do you think the nation of Israel has committed war crimes?' Mr. Cruz demanded.
"'No, I do not, Senator,' Mr. Hagel replied."
Update at 11:45 a.m. ET. McCain And Hagel Clash Over The "Surge" In Iraq:
In 2007, Hagel told then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that President George W. Bush's planned "surge" of more troops to Iraq was possibly the most dangerous "foreign policy blunder since Vietnam."
At Thursday's hearing, Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain challenged Hagel to answer — yes or no — "were you right or wrong?"
After some back-and-forth, Hagel told McCain that "I'm not going to give you a yes or no. ... I think it's far more complicated than that." McCain asked that the record show that Hagel wouldn't answer.
Later, as Hagel was responding to another member of the committee, he said "I did question the surge" because he wondered at the time whether it would be "worth the sacrifice." Noting that almost 1,200 American military personnel died in Iraq after the surge and thousands more were wounded, Hagel said he's still "not sure ... not certain" if the surge was the right strategy.
Thanks to C-SPAN's video library, we were able to create a clip of Hagel's 2007 comments.
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