Skip to main content

Cornyn: Why I can't support Hagel

By John Cornyn, Special to CNN
updated 11:35 AM EST, Fri January 11, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • John Cornyn: Obama's defense secretary nominee, Chuck Hagel, is wrong for the job
  • His actions show he doesn't grasp the magnitude of Iran's threat, Cornyn says
  • Cornyn says Hagel opposed Iran sanctions, urged Bush to hold talks
  • Cornyn: With Hagel pick, Obama has sent the worst message to allies and foes

Editor's note: John Cornyn, a Republican, is the senior United States Senator from Texas.

(CNN) -- To the surprise of many, including me, President Barack Obama has nominated former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel to be his next defense secretary. Like many Texans, I am grateful for Hagel's courageous military service, but I fear he is the wrong man to lead the Pentagon.

One of the biggest foreign-policy challenges of Obama's second term is preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons -- which means we need a defense secretary who understands the nature and magnitude of the Iranian threat. Based on his record, Hagel does not.

John Cornyn
John Cornyn

In July 2001, 96 U.S. senators voted to extend sanctions against Iran. Chuck Hagel was one of only two senators who voted against sanctions. A year later, he urged the Bush administration to support Iranian membership in the World Trade Organization.

Even more disturbing, Hagel voted against a 2007 measure that called for the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) to be designated a terrorist group. (At the time, the IRGC was aiding and equipping Shiite militias that were murdering U.S. troops in Iraq.) A few weeks after this vote, Hagel sent a letter to President George W. Bush asking him to launch "direct, unconditional, and comprehensive talks" with the Iranian government, which the State Department has labeled a state sponsor of terrorism every year since 1984.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



In July 2008, Hagel recommended that Washington go beyond direct talks and establish a U.S. diplomatic mission in Tehran. Later that month, in a Senate Banking Committee vote, he was one of only two senators to oppose the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability and Divestment Act. (Obama signed a subsequent version of this bill in July 2010.)

Finally, in his 2008 book, "America: Our Next Chapter," Hagel appeared to suggest that the United States could live with a nuclear Iran, writing that "the genie of nuclear armaments is already out of the bottle, no matter what Iran does."

These comments and actions indicate that he does not fully appreciate the dangers of a nuclear Iran or the character of the Iranian regime. It is a regime that has effectively been at war with the United States since 1979 -- a regime whose proxies (such as the terrorist group Hezbollah) have killed Americans in Lebanon, Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere. For that matter, Tehran was recently implicated in a plot to blow up a restaurant (and the Saudi ambassador) in our nation's capital.

McCain's 'serious concerns' about Hagel
Iran cheers Hagel nomination
Zakaria: Hagel a 'brave nomination'
President Barack Obama is nominating Chuck Hagel, a former U.S. senator from Nebraska, to succeed Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. Hagel served in the military during the Vietnam War, leading him later to tell a biographer, "I will do all I can to prevent war." After coming home from Vietnam, Hagel worked briefly as a newscaster, then had a career in business, before entering public service as a Republican senator for 12 years. Here's a look at his military and government career: President Barack Obama is nominating Chuck Hagel, a former U.S. senator from Nebraska, to succeed Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. Hagel served in the military during the Vietnam War, leading him later to tell a biographer, "I will do all I can to prevent war." After coming home from Vietnam, Hagel worked briefly as a newscaster, then had a career in business, before entering public service as a Republican senator for 12 years. Here's a look at his military and government career:
Chuck Hagel's military, government career
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
>
>>
Photos: Chuck Hagel\'s military, government career Photos: Chuck Hagel's military, government career

This is not a government that calculates self-interest the way America does. It is a messianic theocracy intent on exporting its violent Islamist revolution. And if Tehran gets the bomb, we might soon have a nuclear arms race in one of the world's most volatile regions.

It is no exaggeration to say that a nuclear Iran represents an existential threat to Israel. And yet, while Hagel wants us to be softer on the Iranians, he thinks we should be tougher on the Israelis. In October 2000, at the beginning of the second Palestinian intifada, he was one of only four senators who refused to sign a letter to President Bill Clinton affirming U.S. solidarity with Israel. More recently, in January 2009, Hagel signed a letter advising Obama to spearhead direct, unconditional talks with Hamas, a terrorist group that had just fired hundreds of rockets into Israel.

Lest we forget, Hamas is an Iranian proxy whose senior leaders openly pray for genocidal violence against both Israelis and Americans. Last year, for example, a Hamas official named Ahmad Bahr, who serves as deputy speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council, declared in a sermon, "Oh Allah, destroy the Jews and their supporters. Oh Allah, destroy the Americans and their supporters. Oh Allah, count them one by one, and kill them all, without leaving a single one."

Thus, by nominating Hagel for defense secretary, the president has sent the worst possible message to our closest Middle Eastern ally and our greatest Middle Eastern enemy.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of John Cornyn.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 11:38 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
updated 12:30 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
updated 8:05 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
LZ Granderson says Ronald Reagan went horseback riding and took a vacation after the Korean Air Crash of 1983. So why does the GOP keep airbrushing history to bash Obama?
updated 9:38 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Aaron Miller says Kerry needs the cooperation of Hamas, Israel, Egypt and others if he is to succeed in his peacemaking efforts
updated 8:51 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Errol Louis says the tragic death of Eric Garner at the hands of the NYPD has its roots in the "broken windows" police strategy from the crime-ridden '80s.
updated 10:08 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
updated 7:27 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Texas Gov. Rick Perry is right to immediately send 1,000 National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border in response to the border children crisis.
updated 9:56 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Ukraine's president says the downing of MH17 was a terrorist act, but Richard Barrett says it would be considered terrorism only if it was intentional
updated 4:15 PM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Robert McIntyre says the loophole that lets firms avoid taxes should be closed
updated 11:35 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Jeronimo Saldana and Malik Burnett say Gov. Perry's plan to send National Guard to the border won't solve the escalating immigration problem.
updated 1:42 PM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Sally Kohn: The world's fish and waters are polluted and under threat. Be very careful what fish you eat
updated 8:42 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Les Abend says threat information that pilots respond to is only as good as the intelligence from air traffic controllers. And none of it is a match for a radar-guided missile
updated 8:35 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Frida Ghitis: Anger over MH17 is growing against pro-Russia separatists. It's time for the Dutch government to lead, she writes
updated 8:27 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Julian Zelizer says President Obama called inequality the "defining challenge" of our time but hasn't followed through.
updated 7:57 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Gene Seymour says the 'Rockford Files' actor worked the persona of the principled coward, charming audiences on big and small screen for generations
updated 10:17 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Daniel Treisman says that when the Russian leader tied his fate to the Ukraine separatists, he set the stage for his current risky predicament
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Andrew Kuchins says urgent diplomacy -- not sanctions -- is needed to de-escalate the conflict in Ukraine that helped lead to the downing of an airliner there.
updated 9:50 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Jim Hall and Peter Goelz say there should be an immediate and thorough investigation into what happened to MH17.
updated 11:07 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Pilot Bill Palmer says main defense commercial jets have against missiles is to avoid flying over conflict areas.
updated 1:55 PM EDT, Sun July 20, 2014
Valerie Jarrett says that working women should not be discriminated against because they are pregnant.
updated 3:53 PM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
David Wheeler says the next time you get a difficult customer representative, think about recording the call.
updated 3:33 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Newt Gingrich says the more dangerous the world becomes the more Obama hides in a fantasy world.
updated 6:11 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Michael Desch: It's hard to see why anyone, including Russia and its local allies, would have intentionally targeted the Malaysian Airlines flight
updated 3:14 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
LZ Granderson says we must remember our visceral horror at the news of children killed in an airstrike on a Gaza beach next time our politicians talk of war
updated 8:06 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Sally Kohn says now the House GOP wants to sue Obama for not implementing a law fast enough, a law they voted down 50 times, all reason has left the room.
updated 8:14 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
A street sign for Wall Street
Sens. Elizabeth Warren, John McCain and others want to scale back the "too big to fail" banks that put us at risk of another financial collapse.
updated 4:16 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Newt Gingrich writes an open letter to Robert McDonald, the nominee to head the Veterans Administration.
updated 12:01 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Paul Begala says Dick Cheney has caused an inordinate amount of damage yet continues in a relentless effort to revise the history of his failures.
updated 10:04 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Kids who takes cell phones to bed are not sleeping, says Mel Robbins. Make them park their phones with the parents at night.
updated 1:29 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Buzz Aldrin looked at planet Earth as he stood on talcum-like lunar dust 45 years ago. He thinks the next frontier should be Mars.
updated 2:04 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Mark Zeller never thought my Afghan translator would save his life by killing two Taliban fighters who were about to kill him. The Taliban retaliated by placing him on the top of its kill list.
updated 11:18 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Jeff Yang says an all-white cast of Asian characters in cartoonish costumes is racially offensive.
updated 9:24 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Gary Ginsberg says the late John F. Kennedy Jr.'s reaction to an event in 1995 summed up his character
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Meg Urry says most falling space debris lands on the planet harmlessly and with no witnesses.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT