Hagel cloture fails: Now what about Iran? [Updated with video]

February 14, 2013

The cloture vote on Chuck Hagel failed today by one vote. This gives the Senate the recess to mull things over. One item to mull is Iran.

Sen. Mitch McConnell -Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg
Sen. Mitch McConnell (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

Hagel got tripped up badly in his confirmation hearing on our current policy on Iran. First he said our policy was containment. Then he said we didn’t have a policy on containment. And then Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) bailed him out, explaining that we are against containment.

Hagel has a history of opposition to unilateral sanctions. These are intensely problematic, because the greatest national security threat we face is from a nuclearized Iran. Confusion about our policy or giving the mullahs reason to think there is uncertainty or wiggle room in the U.S. government is dangerous. It directly undercuts our efforts to get Iran to give up its nuclear weapons program.

In two more speeches released today (one of which fell within the request of the Senate Armed Services Committee but was not turned over by Hagel), we see how deeply deferential Hagel is to the revolutionary Islamic state. In a speech to the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination League, Hagel embraces his “linkage” notion (now widely discredited) but then says something (at about the 26:50 mark) quite alarming about U.S.-Iran relations: We shouldn’t be putting conditions on talks, putting other issues to the side except one issue (he is referring, one assumes, to its nuclear weapons program) that we will “dictate.” Here is the passage:

We can’t “dictate” to Iran? We are of course attempting to enforce multiple United Nations sanctions and resolutions of which Iran is in violation. Does he take the side of Iran, that it has a “right” to pursue its nuclear weapons program?

Then there is his 2007 Rutgers speech. The prepared remarks have this humdinger: “In the Middle East of the 21st century, Iran will be a key center of gravity … a significant regional power. The United States cannot change that reality. America’s strategic 21st-century regional policy for the Middle East must acknowledge the role of Iran today and over the next 25 years.” Really? This would come as news to our Sunni allies and Israel. It simply isn’t the case that Iran must or is likely to be “the center of gravity, ” and suggesting that it has some sphere of influence would likely panic our allies. He also says we should affirmatively disclaim regime change. Why — don’t we favor a democratic government?

Hagel also thinks of Iran’s role in Afghanistan fondly: “Iran has cooperated with the United States on Afghanistan to help the Afghans establish a new government after the Taliban was ousted. Iran continues to invest heavily in the reconstruction of western Afghanistan.

“On Afghanistan, the United States and Iran found common interests — defeating the Taliban and Islamic radicals, stabilizing Afghanistan, stopping the opium production and the flow of opium coming into Iran. From these common interests emerged common actions working toward a common purpose. It was in the interests of Iran to work with the U.S. in Afghanistan. It was not a matter of helping America or strengthening America’s presence in Central Asia. It was a clear-eyed and self-serving action for Iran.”

For starters, Iran — both in Iraq and Afghanistan — contributed to the deaths of numerous Americans, so it is peculiar, to say the least, that we should leave out that stark fact. But more to the point, our interests were not shared. As one Middle East foreign policy official points out: “Iran didn’t want to stabilize Afghanistan, they wanted to get rid of the Taliban so they could resume their hegemonic role among the Hazarras. And to this day, Iran makes money from opium sales.”

Why would the president select someone so deferential toward the Islamic revolutionary government? Perhaps he was unaware of Hagel’s views. But more important, if Hagel is there, how will he project resoluteness and credibly adopt a policy that is at odds with his entire pre-confirmation record? During the recess, the Senate should think about that. And it might be interesting to find out who was helping him with these intensely pro-Tehran speeches.

Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Post, offering reported opinion from a conservative perspective.
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Jennifer Rubin | February 14, 2013