The Scene at the Hagel Hearing (Updating)

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5:52 pm.  The Senate Armed Service Committee hearings on Senator Chuck Hagel's nomination to serve as the next Secretary of Defense were grueling and just ended. 

Hagel was rarely humorous and basically plodded through cautiously, seriously, professorially taking a lot of hits from mostly GOP critics on the Committee.  The Dem members, for the most part, seemed to want statements on the record that would allow them to justify a yes vote in support of Hagel.  Gillibrand wanted to hear about protections for LGBT rights and women.  Shaheen wanted to protect NH shipyards.  Senator Donnelly wanted commitment to support the National Guard.  Mark Udall wanted specific statements of support for Israel -- and statements that the military option was on the table with regard to Iran.

I'll reflect on the day later as I need to get to MSNBC's studio -- but I have to note that Senators Jeff Sessions, Kelly Ayotte, and Roy Blunt -- despite obvious concerns and potential opposition to Hagel did it with class and civility.  They knew their stuff.  They were Hagel's toughest, most serious critics -- and I don't think Hagel won them over.

Senators Cruz, John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and Inhofe seemed to want to have a public fight and wanted to do all they could to force Hagel into confessions of past sins.  Cruz oddly had bad information suggesting that Chas Freeman and Hagel were intimately connected and travel buddies.  Bad staff work on that front.

While many will make much of the exchange with McCain, Hagel won I think -- in the sense that he reminded Americans that their are multiple costs associated with military action and in determining whether the Iraq surge was a success, Hagel reminded that 1,200 Americans died during that action and thousands more were injured. 

Bottom line is that I think Hagel -- who has the rough edge and war-forged voice of a real soldier -- met expectations but did not really beat them.  Kissengerian humor injected into discussions of war and peace would have helped a lot.  Nonetheless, I expect that all of those inclined to support Hagel yesterday will stay where they are -- and those predisposed against him will remain where they are.

I think that there are a good number more Senators willing to confirm than not -- and those numbers were not moved or altered by today's performance.

4:54 pm. 
Hagel tells Senator Manchin that he'll always be honest with Congress; always give them what's going on straight.  That was an impressive moment.

Manchin concludes reflecting on an old West Virginia saying that "If you can't change you mind, you can't change anything." Hagel chuckled.Senator Joe Manchin starts out the next round of questions saying that he wants to apologize for some of the tone and demeanor shown by some others on the Armed Services Committee.  Manchin asks Hagel how he got into Vietnam -- and then Hagel smartly noted that he knew Manchin tried repeatedly to enlist but was blocked because of knee problems.  Good move by Hagel.

Hagel now speaking about his early military enlistment process -- and it's always good TV to listen to a hero of military service talk about what he did to serve the nation in wartime.  Many vets will appreciate Hagel's story.

LOL.  Finally some humor!!  Hagel acknowledges that many leading Israelis have endorsed his candidacy as Secretary of Defense.  Manchin said apparently other countries want him -- and Hagel says, "Yes, it seems Iran wants me," with a chuckle.  Well handled.  This hearing could have used more humor.

4:39 pm 
Senator Inhofe just said that he is stating his own thoughts, not those of any other interests.  Hallelujah.  Good for a US Senator to get to that frame.  Inhofe says he believes Egyptian President Morsi is an enemy -- and Egypt's military is a friend.  Interesting and pretty binary perspective. 

Senator Inhofe also asked Hagel whether he personally thought Inhofe's questions about the Iranian government's alleged enthusiasm for Hagel was disrespectful.  Hagel said no and that he thought it was a legitimate question. 

I disagree.  I think that the question was tantamount to asking Hagel if he was a traitor -- so count me as one who thought that the question was out of line -- and questioned the core patriotism of Chuck Hagel.

So with all due respect to Senator Inhofe, I do think he should reconsider his line of attack on that.  It is disrespectful to ask someone like Hagel whether they are American patriots or are instead dupes representing foreign countries -- whether Israel or Iran or China or the Brits or Japan.

4:34 pm. 
Senator Shaheen draws Hagel to reiterate his statement of support for Israel's security.  This is interesting as a core part of Shaheen's constituency in New Hampshire are Arab-Americans, mostly Lebanon-descendedI liked her response because it showed as well that she does not make a false choice between those with a strong interest in Israel and those with a strong interest in other parts of the Middle East.

4:27 pm.  Senator Jeanne Shaheen, for whom I have a lot of time, finally sort of gets something many other US Senators on the Armed Services Committee don't get.  She realizes Hagel is likely to be confirmed and that he will have tons of influence on which US military assets are shuttered and which are reinforced.  Shaheen just got Hagel's commitment to keep some New Hampshire military assets, particularly shipyards, bolstered and in good financial health.  Smart.  Not sure the Texas delegation is going to be all that welcome by those who seem themselves part of the Chuck Hagel franchise at the Pentagon -- though I'm fairly sure that Hagel will not bear any ill will towards Senators Cruz, Inhofe, and Cornyn and won't penalize their military assets when real austerity measures hit the DoD budget.

But those who see themselves as Hagelites?  Not so sure, Texas and Oklahoma will make much headway with them.

4:11 pm.
Senator Tim Kaine is demonstrating a facility with national security issues that shows he knows something more about all of this than the notes his staff hands him. I wish a good number of the other Senators on the United States Armed Services Committee knew more about armed services, foreign policy and national security policy challenges facing the country. Some are detail savvy -- but not enough of them.
 
This was a strange exchange between Senator Lindsey Graham and Senator Chuck Hagel earlier today in the hearings.  Senator Graham pounds Hagel to name "one dumb thing" that the US Congress did as a result of what Hagel had inaptly termed "the Jewish lobby" in an interview with Aaron David Miller.

The real fact is Hagel never said that Congress had done something stupid.  He actually said that the Lobby had done stupid things that had ultimately undermined the interests of Israel. 

Here is a post I did about this earlier:

2:05 pm.  Interesting factoid.  Senator Lindsey Graham hammered Chuck Hagel to give him one instance of when the Congress had done something stupid in response to the Israel, or as Hagel said, Jewish Lobby.  The fact is that Hagel, in the interview with Aaron David Miller, never said Congress had done anything stupid as a result of the lobby. 

What Hagel really said is that the lobby does some 'dumb things' that are not in the interest of Israel.  Ambassador and then Israel Foreign Ministry Spokesman once told a visiting group that AIPAC, like some other diaspora groups, sometimes hugs so much that it hurts. 

That aside, here is exactly what Hagel said:

"The political reality is that you intimidate, not you -- that the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here. Again, I have always argued against some of the dumb things they do because I don't think it's in the interest of Israel. I just don't think it's smart for Israel. Now, everyone has a right to lobby; that's as it should be. Come see your senator, your congressman, and if you can get the guy to sign your letter, great, wonderful. But as I reminded somebody not too long ago, in fact it was a group I was speaking to in New York, and we got into kind of an interesting give and take on Iran. A couple of these guys said we should just attack Iran. And I said, 'Well, that's an interesting thought; we're doing so well in Iraq.' And I said it would really help Israel. And this guy kept pushing and pushing. And he alluded to the fact that maybe I wasn't supporting Israel enough or something. And I just said let me clear something up here, in case there is any doubt. I said, 'I'm a United States senator. I'm not an Israeli senator. I'm a United States senator.' I support Israel, but my first interest is I take an oath of office to the Constitution of the United States -- not to a president, not to a party, not to Israel. If I go run for Senate in Israel, I'll do that. Now I know most senators don't talk like I do.
3:55 pm  Senator Mike Lee is trying to trip Hagel up on Israel-Palestine security issues, but it seems to me that Lee started off oddly, defining Israel as potentially America's most important ally globally.  What happened to the UK, to Japan, to other states that actually throw a great deal of their own resources into large geostrategic challenges facing the United States.  Israel is important no doubt -- but more important than these two other vital relationships?

2:05 pm. 
Interesting factoid.  Senator Lindsey Graham hammered Chuck Hagel to give him one instance of when the Congress had done something stupid in response to the Israel, or as Hagel said, Jewish Lobby.  The fact is that Hagel, in the interview with Aaron David Miller, never said Congress had done anything stupid as a result of the lobby. 

What Hagel really said is that the lobby does some 'dumb things' that are not in the interest of Israel.  Ambassador and then Israel Foreign Ministry Spokesman once told a visiting group that AIPAC, like some other diaspora groups, sometimes hugs so much that it hurts. 

That aside, here is exactly what Hagel said:

"The political reality is that you intimidate, not you -- that the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here. Again, I have always argued against some of the dumb things they do because I don't think it's in the interest of Israel. I just don't think it's smart for Israel. Now, everyone has a right to lobby; that's as it should be. Come see your senator, your congressman, and if you can get the guy to sign your letter, great, wonderful. But as I reminded somebody not too long ago, in fact it was a group I was speaking to in New York, and we got into kind of an interesting give and take on Iran. A couple of these guys said we should just attack Iran. And I said, 'Well, that's an interesting thought; we're doing so well in Iraq.' And I said it would really help Israel. And this guy kept pushing and pushing. And he alluded to the fact that maybe I wasn't supporting Israel enough or something. And I just said let me clear something up here, in case there is any doubt. I said, 'I'm a United States senator. I'm not an Israeli senator. I'm a United States senator.' I support Israel, but my first interest is I take an oath of office to the Constitution of the United States -- not to a president, not to a party, not to Israel. If I go run for Senate in Israel, I'll do that. Now I know most senators don't talk like I do.

1:57 pm.
  In response to Senator Donnelly from Indiana, Chuck Hagel says that this is the time in which we are debating what the core military mission of the nation will be. He said that this is a time of 'choices and priorities'.  Hagel went on to say that the entire universe of what our responsibilities will be and how we will be tasked with carrying out those missions in defense of the security of the United States is what he and the Committee were discussing today. Hagel says that the authorizing role of the committees in Congress will have substantial sway in the direction of America's national security mission.

Hagel said that he would be strongly supportive of the National Guard, in further equipping them and assuring resources there for those in reserve to back up active global US military missions.

1:45 pm
.  Senator Roy Blunt opens with a generous and civil tone -- admitting that much of what he might have wanted to discuss about Israel and unilateral sanctions towards Iran, which he helped marshal forward and draft in the House of Representatives, had been exhausted in earlier discussion -- but then Blunt asked a smart question about the size, capabilities, and battle readiness of America's military forces.

Blunt cited a Wall Street Journal article saying that US forces just aren't where they should be. Hagel responded that we have work to do -- but the fact is, as Hagel said, "we have been at war for 12 years now."  Hagel and Blunt seemed to agree that we need to be smart about the investments in the future of the military forces, so that the US does not lose its edge in military capacity.

Hagel has also said that we will have to work to maintain the defense industrial base.  He said that the uncertainties of the sequester have created a great deal of stress and uncertainty in the system about the defense systems acquisition process -- and we need to get beyond that uncertainty.  Fair point.

1:30 pm. 
Senator Lindsey Graham once participated in a great evening at the Motion Picture Association in which his favorite film, Seven Days in May, was screened.  It was an outstanding event -- and the Senator articulated that the film reminded him of the dangers of "military demagoguery." The film focused on the rise of the military and the threat it posed to civilian leadership in the White House. 

It's interesting that Graham is posing questions (and seeming to answer them for Hagel) that express Graham's support for a martial posture in military affairs -- rather than allowing discussion of restraint.  Hagel seemed to do a good job of responding to a number of Senator Graham's concerns, agreeing with him on the characterization of Iran as a terrorist state.  I don't think Graham's concerns that Hagel did not jump on the bandwagon and support a letter co-signed by 96 other Senators about Israel's security did not come off well.  It's interesting to note, just in contrast, that Senators Cornyn, Cruz, and Inhofe didn't jump on the bandwagon of support for John Kerry's confirmation either. 

More on this issue of letter-signing later.

1:21 pm.
 
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand getting Hagel to commit to stronger leadership in looking after women serving in the military forces reflecting on the reports of abuse and violence, as well as rapes, toward women.  She asked him about Israel, about Iran, about gays -- and got him on the record committing to strong support of Israel's security and a commitment to keep all options open on Iran.  He said he would institute a zero tolerance policy on violence towards women.

Previously, Senator Joe Manchin praised Hagel's independence -- of saying that he didn't determine his votes by the votes of others, and Manchin embraced that -- saying he was often in the same position.

One of the views that Senator Manchin holds that I hope gets more air time eventually is that despite the increase in military spending over time, the number of men and women in uniform has mostly stayed flat.  The implication is that much of the increases in defense spending have gone to accounts that haven't increased the muscle and structure of the actual military -- but have increased the amount of resources going to private contractors.  Expect to hear more about this subject as we move past the Hagel hearings to real discussions of what the future of defense spending will look like.

12:54 pm. 
Now watching the hearings from MSNBC studio.  Senator Ayotte is challenging Hagel on perceived discrepancies between the much-discussed Global Zero report and some of his statements in the hearing.  She was civil, but pointed and really wants Hagel to defend the current structure of America's nuclear deterrent.  The problem I have with this line of questioning is that Ayotte and Hagel could create a genuine learning moment by thinking through the unthinkables about the parts of the nuclear deterrent that will eventually become anachronistic.  For me, manned bombers are part of that withering triad.

12:04 pm. 
Senator Mark Udall asks Hagel to clarify his position on LGBT rights, and Hagel makes clear his strong support for LGBT rights, consistent with current law.

I am now rushing out to appear on Andrea Mitchell's MSNBC show Mitchell Reports. I will post updates as I can. 

11:52 am. Senator Saxby Chambliss just offered Chuck Hagel his congratulations on his nomination and expressed strong feelings of friendship for Hagel. But now he has asked Hagel to drill down into Iran issues -- and quoted from Hagel's book in which the defense secretary nominee said that given that we stumbled through faulty intel into a mistaken war with Iraq, we needed to be ever more careful in our positioning and posturing towards Iran. Chambliss asks Hagel why we should 'dialogue' with a terrorist state like Iran and asks him why Hagel did not vote to support designating Iran's IRGC as a terrorist organization.

Hagel responds first on the Revolutionary Guard issue. Hagel reminds Chambliss that there were 22 US Senators against this designation. Hagel references former Senator Jim Webb who articulated during the IRGC debate that the US had never designated a part of a legitimate, sovereign government a terrorist organization.

Webb's view was that voting to pass was tantamount to giving the President of the United States authority to go to war with Iran, without coming back to Congress for its consent and approval. Hagel believed that we were already in two wars at the time and was not ready to give easy consent to the White House to engage in a third war without the advice and consent of the Senate. Notes that then Senators Lugar and Biden -- Republican and Democrat -- both voted against the IRGC terrorist organization legislation.

Hagel also believes that President Obama has gone as far as he should probably go publicly in defining the 'red lines' that matter in consideration of a potential military strike against Iran. Hagel says that Obama has "said he has Israel's back."

Hagel said that Iran is probably as great a threat as the US has today -- but also says that North Korea is 'beyond a threat' as a nuclear power, and that Pakistan remains a troubling and complex problem.

Hagel says that the best way to deal with Iran is to try every possible initiative -- says engagement is what great powers do -- before considering a new war. War should be last resort. Hagel says engagement is not appeasement.

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11:27 am.  Super full house here.  It's impressive that Senator Jeff Sessions has read and knows in depth the Global Zero report on rethinking and restructuring America's nuclear forces.  He is showing himself to be a high quality thinker and raising serious issues which are potentially different from the positions Hagel holds.  That said, Hagel is testifying under oath that there is a difference between a report that considers long in the future adjustments to America's nuclear profile -- and those that should be our policy tomorrow.  

A couple of my own thoughts on this.  Hagel is a strategic thinker, considering the kinds of hard choices America will have to make in the future.  He should be rewarded and not penalized for thinking about these tough issues in creative ways.  Washington, DC is filled with risk averse people who never sign on to anything potentially controversial because of the prospect that they may have to defend creative, future-oriented, non-status quo thinking at a Senate confirmation hearing.

I think Hagel is solidly in line with what Sessions actually believes -- though their views of the future differ.  That said, Sessions wins points for seriousness, for a deep dive that is creating a quality encounter.  He is civil -- and whether he supports Hagel or not, I'm impressed with both Sessions and Hagel in this particular exchange over America's nuclear posture and the structure of its forces.

11:24 am.  All of the traffic on Chuck #Hagel seems to be crashing Twitter over and over again.  What's up with this? 

11:18 am.  In response to Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL), Chuck Hagel explains that one of the frames through which he considers the cost-benefit results of military deployments is from the perspective of the US serviceman and servicewoman sent to front lines.  He reminds that 1,200 Americans were killed during the Iraq surge and thousands of others urged.  He says he is not sure that these results were worth what was achieved inside Iraq and whether America's strategic assets were enhanced.

11:05 am. Senator John McCain opens up directly and bluntly -- saying that these are not minor differences between friends but rather significant policy divergences. McCain opens up with Hagel over his defection from McCain and the GOP in opposing the surge in Iraq. I once thought McCain may surprise us and end up voting in support of Hagel. His tone and the direction he has taken -- in which McCain felt betrayed by Hagel -- makes me think McCain is no longer a possible 'yes' vote.

McCain hammering Hagel, interrupting Hagel, demanding a yes or no response to his question on the Iraq surge. Hagel tells him that he will defer to history to answer that question -- and wanted to explain. McCain says "let the record show that Senator Hagel refused to answer the question." Hagel then explains that he stands by his view that the Iraq surge was the worst decision that the government has made since Vietnam.

McCain makes his vote subject to Hagel's view of the Iraq surge. Feisty moments. McCain clearly going to be a NO vote.

10:50 am. Senator Inhofe pressing Hagel on his nuclear views and his activities with "Global Zero or whatever that organization was," as expressed by Inhofe. Inhofe asked about Hagel's views about supporting the nuclear triad of US forces -- and Hagel said he agrees with Inhofe and that the Obama administration's policies are consistent with Inhofe. But Inhofe doesn't believe him.

Inhofe goes over the line and asks why the Iranian Foreign Ministry so strongly supports Hagel's nomination. Wow. He's the ranking member of the Armed Services Committee asking a question that really ponders whether Hagel is a traitor to his country. Amazing.

10:41 am. In Q&A starting with Senator Carl Levin, Hagel says he supports the Pentagon command staff's concerns as well as those of Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta that a sequster would have highly negative impacts on the Pentagon and its security deliverables.

On Iran, Hagel said there has never been disagreement on the objective of keeping Iran away from a nuclear weapon, but rather differences on the efficacy of different approaches. In essence, Hagel opposes unilateral sanctions as ineffective -- though he admitted he had voted for them on occasion on a case by case basis.

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Senator Chuck Hagel is now offering his opening statement before the Committee. He said his son wasn't there today because he said he was taking a test. Drawing some chuckles from even those Senators most opposed to him, Hagel said this fact still needed to be confirmed.

Here is Hagel's statement as prepared for delivery:

Chuck Hagel Statement Before the Senate Armed Services Committee January 31, 2013 As Prepared for Delivery Thank you Chairman Levin, Ranking Member Inhofe, and Distinguished Members of the Committee. I am honored to come before you today as the President's nominee to be Secretary of Defense.

I want to thank my friends Sam Nunn and John Warner for their support, encouragement, and friendship over many years. These two distinguished Americans represent what's best about American public service and responsible bipartisanship. They have embodied both in their careers and are models for each of us.

To my family, friends, and fellow veterans who are here this morning - and those who are not - thank you. A life is only as good as the family and friends you have and the people you surround yourself with.

I also want to thank my friend Leon Panetta for his tremendous service to our country over so many years. If I'm given the privilege of succeeding him, it will be a high honor.

Finally, I want to thank President Obama for his confidence and trust in me. I am humbled by the opportunity and possibility he has given me to serve our country once again.

I fully recognize the immense responsibilities of the Secretary of Defense. I assured the President that if I am confirmed by the United States Senate, I will always do my best for our nation and for the men and women - and their families - who are called on to make the enormous sacrifices of military service. Their safety, success, and welfare will always be at the forefront of the decisions I make.

I also assured the President that I would always provide him with my most honest and informed advice. I make that same commitment to this Committee and to the Congress. If confirmed, I will reach out to the members of this Committee for advice and collaboration. It will be a partnership, because the national security challenges America faces require it.

Our nation's security is the highest priority of our leaders and our government. We cannot allow the work of confronting the great threats we face today to be held hostage to partisanship on either side of the aisle, or by differences between the bodies represented in Articles I and II of our Constitution. The stakes are too high. Men and women of all political philosophies and parties fight and die for our country. As this Committee knows so well, protecting our national security or committing a nation to war can never become political litmus tests. I know Secretary Panetta has put a strong emphasis on reaching out to the Congress. I, like Leon, come from the Congress, and respect and understand this institution's indispensable role in setting policy and helping govern our country.

We are all products of the forces that shape us. For me, there has been nothing more important in my life - or a more defining influence on my life - than my family. Whether it was helping my mother raise four boys after my father - a World War II veteran - died suddenly at age 39 on Christmas Day, or serving side by side my brother Tom in Vietnam, or the wonderful miracle of my wife Lilibet and me being blessed with two beautiful children. That is who I am. We each bring to our responsibilities "frames of reference" formed by our life's experiences. They help instruct our judgments. We build out from those personal foundations by continually informing ourselves, listening, and learning.

Like each of you, I have a record. A record I am proud of, not because of any accomplishments I may have achieved, or an absence of mistakes, but rather because I've tried to build that record by living my life and fulfilling my responsibilities as honestly as I knew how and with hard work. Under-pinning everything I've done in my life was the belief that we must always be striving to make our nation a better and more secure place for all of our people.

During the twelve years I had the privilege of serving the people of Nebraska in the United States Senate, I cast over 3,000 votes and hundreds of Committee votes. I've also given hundreds of interviews and speeches, and written a book. So, as you all know, I am on the record on many issues.

But 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. I believe, and always have, that America must engage - not retreat - in the world. My record is consistent on these points.

It's clear that we are living at a defining time. Our nation is emerging from over a decade of war. We have brought our men and women in uniform home from Iraq, and have started to bring them home from Afghanistan.

That does not mean the threats we face and will continue to face are any less dangerous or complicated. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Recent events in Mali and Algeria remind us of this reality. Twenty first century complexities, technologies, economies, and threats are bringing the seven billion global citizens closer together. And as our planet adds another two billion people over the next 25 years, the dangers, complications, and human demands will not be lessened, but rather heightened.

Despite these challenges, I believe we also have historic opportunities to help build a safer, more prosperous, more secure, more hopeful and just world than at maybe any time in history. Yes, the curse of intolerance, hatred, and danger exists around the world, and we must continue to be clear-eyed about this danger - and we will be. We will not hesitate to use the full force of the United States military in defense of our security. But we must also be smart, and more importantly wise, in how we employ all of our nation's great power.

America's continued leadership and strength at home and abroad will be critically important for our country and the world. While we will not hesitate to act unilaterally when necessary, it is essential that we work closely with our allies and partners to enhance America's influence and security - as well as global security. If confirmed, I will continue to build on the efforts of this administration and of former Secretary Gates, Secretary Panetta, and Secretary Clinton to strengthen our alliances and partnerships around the world. I will also look forward to working with my former Senate colleague and friend, John Kerry, in this effort.

As I told the President, I am committed to his positions on all issues of national security, specifically decisions that the Department of Defense is in the process of implementing. This includes the Defense Strategic Guidance the President outlined in January 2012. Allow me to briefly address a few of those specific issues now.

First, we have a plan in place to transition out of Afghanistan, continue bringing our troops home, and end the war there - which has been the longest war in America's history. As you know, discussions are ongoing about what the U.S. presence in Afghanistan will look like after 2014. The President has made clear - and I agree - that there should be only two functions for U.S. troops that remain in Afghanistan after 2014: counterterrorism - particularly to target al Qaeda and its affiliates, and training and advising Afghan forces. It's time we forge a new partnership with Afghanistan, with its government and, importantly, with its people.

Second, as Secretary of Defense I will ensure we stay vigilant and keep up the pressure on terrorist organizations as they try to expand their affiliates around the world, in places like Yemen, Somalia, and North Africa. At the Pentagon, that means continuing to invest in and build the tools to assist in that fight, such as special operations forces and new intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance technologies. And it will mean working hand-in-hand with our partners across the national security and intelligence communities, to confront these and other threats, especially the emerging threat of cyber warfare.

Third, as I have made clear, 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. My policy is one of prevention, and not one of containment - and the President has made clear that is the policy of our government. As Secretary of Defense, I will make sure the Department is prepared for any contingency. 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.

Fourth, while we pursue the reductions in our deployed stockpiles and launchers consistent with the New START Treaty, I am committed to maintaining a modern, strong, safe, ready, and effective nuclear arsenal. America's nuclear deterrent over the last 65 years has played a central role in ensuring global security and the avoidance of a World War III. I am committed to modernizing our nuclear arsenal.

As we emerge from this decade of war, we also must broaden our nation's focus overseas as we look at future threats and challenges. As this Committee knows, that's why DoD is rebalancing its resources towards the Asia-Pacific region. We are in the process of modernizing our defense posture across the entire region to defend and deepen our partnerships with traditional allies, especially Japan, South Korea, and Australia; to continue to deter and defend against provocations from states like North Korea, as well as non-state actors; and to expand our networks of security cooperation throughout the region to combat terrorism, counter proliferation, provide disaster relief, fight piracy, and ensure maritime security.

I will continue this rebalancing, even as we continue to work closely with our longtime NATO allies and friends, and with allies and partners in other regions. At the same time, we will continue to focus on challenges in the Middle East and North Africa, where we have clear national interests. Rather, it is a recognition that the United States has been and always will be a Pacific power, and the Asia-Pacific is an increasingly vital part of the globe for America's security and economy. That's why we must become even more engaged in the region over the coming years.

Doing all of this and much more will require smart and strategic budget decisions. I have made it clear I share Leon Panetta's and our service chiefs' serious concerns about the impact sequestration would have on our armed forces. And as someone who has run businesses, I know the uncertainty and turbulence of the current budget climate makes it much more difficult to manage the Pentagon's resources. 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.

Even as we deal with difficult budget decisions, I will never break America's commitment to our troops, our veterans, and our military families. We will continue to invest in the well-being of our all-volunteer force. And, working with the VA and other institutions, we will make sure our troops and their families get the health care, job opportunities, and education they have earned and deserve - just as I did when I co-authored the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill with Senators Jim Webb, John Warner, and Frank Lautenberg. This includes focusing on the mental health of our fighting force, because no one who volunteers to fight and die for our country should feel like they have nowhere to turn.

In my twelve years in the Senate, my one guiding principle on every national security decision I made and every vote I cast was always this: Is our policy worthy of our troops and their families and the sacrifices we ask them to make? That same question will guide me if I am confirmed as Secretary of Defense. Our men and women in uniform and their families must never doubt that their leaders' first priority is them. I believe my record of leadership on veterans issues over the years - going back to my service in the Veterans Administration under President Reagan - demonstrates my rock-solid commitment to our veterans and their families.

We must always take care of our people. That's why I will work to ensure that everyone who volunteers to fight for this country has the same rights and opportunities. As I've discussed with many of you in our meetings, I am fully committed to implementing the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell and doing everything possible under current law to provide equal benefits to the families of all our service members. I will work with the service chiefs as we officially open combat positions to women, a decision that I strongly support. And I will continue the important work that Leon Panetta has done to combat sexual assault in the military. Maintaining the health and well-being of those who serve is critical to maintaining a strong and capable military, because an institution's people must always come first.

As we look ahead to the coming years, we have an extraordinary opportunity now to define what's next for America's military and our country. It is incumbent upon all of us to make decisions that will ensure our nation is prepared to confront any threat we may face, protect our citizens, and remain the greatest force for good in the world.

If confirmed as Secretary of Defense, it will be my great honor - working with the President, this Committee, the Congress, and our military - to ensure our policies are worthy of the service and sacrifice of America's finest men and women. Thank you. I look forward to your questions.

# # #

Senator John Warner tells Senate Armed Services Committee members that Chuck Hagel will hit head on all of the concerns and issues raised by the Members of the Committee -- and that a fair discussion of real issues can be had so that decisions can be made on their merits.

Senators Mark Udall, Shaheen, Manchin, Donnelly, Kane, King, Nelson, Jack Reed, Carl Levin, Jeff Sessions, Saxby Chambliss, Fischer, Ayotte, Lee listening carefully to John Warner.

Those looking at iPhones and blackberries, or otherwise distracted, while John Warner speaks are: Senators Gilibrand, Kay Hagan, (Hirono just stepped out), McAskill, Inhofe, McCain, Wicker, Lindsey Graham, Blunt, and Cruz.

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Two former chairmen of the Senate Armed Services Committee -- San Nunn and John Warner -- are sitting aside Chuck Hagel and will introduce him to the members of the committee. Formidable line up.

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Hagel is now in the hearing room, listening to Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin. We just received a copy of Ranking Member Senator Jim Inhofe's roster of concerns and expression of opposition to Hagel's confirmation.

Of note are Inhofe's opposition to a vote until Hagel provides copies of eight speeches for which he received honoraria -- noting that Senator Hagel had provided copies of only four speeches.

Inhofe will also say: "Though I respect Senator Hagel, his record to date demonstrates he will be a staunch advocate for the continuation of the misguided policies of President Obama's first term.

Finally, an honest statement that most of this turbulence is about President Obama's policies.
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Former Senator Max Cleland here. The first protestor just raised a poster asking Hagel to deliver on LGBT commitments if confirmed as Secretary of Defense (pic can be seen at my @SCClemons Twitter feed).

Senator Carl Levin has just opened the hearing -- paying tribute to former ranking member John McCain and welcoming as new Ranking Member Jim Inhofe, who has already communicated his opposition to Senator Hagel's confirmation -- 'before' these hearings. Interesting stewardship model given his new role here.

IMG_6832.jpgThe crowd is building. Now seated next to Eli Lake, senior national security correspondent for Newsweek/Daily Beast, who has been an intrepid reporter on the Hagel hearings. 

Between us we could do a Showtime mini-series about the politics surrounding the Chuck Hagel nomination.

The hearing room is now super-packed.  Standing room only does not describe it.  Outserve/SLDN, an LGBT advocacy shop for those serving in or who have previously served in the military, is here in force.  Also, the Center for American Freedom has distributed a two-pager on why Hagel must be the worst choice for Defense Secretary ever.  Last item on their list:  Hagel wants to lift the embargo against Cuba. 

In my view, ending the self-defeating, anachronistic, failed embargo against Cuba is one of the best things the Obama administration could do.  But wait, I remember now Senator Jeff Flake largely saying the same thing as Hagel.  Also Richard Lugar, Kit Bond, and others.  

More soon.

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8:53 am.  This morning I'm up in SD-G50, which means basement of the Senate Dirksen Office Building, as the media and other notables assemble for the Senate Armed Services Committee hearings on Senator Chuck Hagel's nomination to serve as the next Secretary of Defense.

There is a huge line outside -- and clearly not enough room in here for all of the people who will want to get in. 

For those following, here is a pdf of the Chuck Hagel Statement Before the Senate Armed Services Committee (as prepared for delivery).

Things start up formally in 30 minutes.

4:49 pm. 

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Steve Clemons is Washington editor at large for The Atlantic and editor of Atlantic Live. He writes frequently about politics and foreign affairs. More

Clemons is a senior fellow and the founder of the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation, a centrist think tank in Washington, D.C., where he previously served as executive vice president. He writes and speaks frequently about the D.C. political scene, foreign policy, and national security issues, as well as domestic and global economic-policy challenges.

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