Much of the attention regarding the Chuck Hagel defense secretary nomination has centered on his past views and voting record and his serial recantation in which Hagel has praised and pledged to follow the president’s policies, many of which he opposed throughout his Senate career. What we haven’t heard is a specific repudiation of his prior positions. Does he now acknowledge that a ground zero nuclear position is ill-conceived and dangerous? And if so, when did he figure this out? How did he originally come to such a flawed policy judgment?
These are not trivial questions. They go to the heart of what the Senate Armed Services Committee should explore. It may not be sufficient to earn him confirmation, but it is necessary if the Senate is to discharge its duty to advise and consent on a key presidential nominee.
In criminal law it is called an allocution, which means to speak out formally, usually to recite your past misconduct. It is required in many states in order to accept a plea bargain because in exchange for a reduced sentence we expect the defendant to recognize and accept full responsibility for his misdeeds.
So it must be for Hagel. If he now is to tell us that, for example, he fully supports the president’s Iran policy, then the senators have every right to hear him concede that his aversion to unilateral sanctions was wrong, his objection to isolating Iran was entirely misguided and his enthusiasm for slashing away at the defense budget without regard to the military preparedness we would need to confront Iran, among other foes, was reckless. He cannot continue to maintain his old view while affirming his abiding faith in a new set of principles.
This is important to do on every subject of concern as a test of veracity and character. It is one thing to tell Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) privately that he feels bad about defaming American Jews and other senators (I’m not the senator for Israel); it is quite another to explain that accusations of dual loyalty have no place in American society and the notion that our security is not linked with Israel’s is flat-out wrong. The former requires no remorse (not even a personally drafted letter); the second is essential if he is to be placed in a top national security position.
Only after an exhaustive exploration of all his controversial positions and the accompanying about-faces can senators assess whether Hagel is sincere and committed to his new found views. Only then can they determine if he has the emotional commitment to these views and the intellectual rigor to defend them against those who shared the old Hagel views (both here and abroad). It may still be that senators find his conversion unconvincing. They may still be legitimately worried that our foes will perceive his nomination as an implicit adoption of his past views on nuclear weapons, Iran, terrorism and the Palestinian-Israel conflict.
But without such a process the confirmation becomes an empty exercise in which Hagel figuratively crosses his fingers behind his back while parroting views with which he does not embrace. It may not be enough to get him through. There may still be serious concerns about his temperament and lack of management experience that are grounds for voting against his confirmation, even filibustering if they are severe enough. That said, without such a renunciation of past views his confirmation is unimaginable.