While Secretary of State-designate John Kerry’s nomination hearing last week was pretty much a lovefest (it was before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which he chairs), this week’s Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Chuck Hagel for Defense should be anything but.
Setting aside his controversial past statements, there’s no shortage of pressing global issues — not to mention Team Obama policies — that sorely need to be discussed and debated:
Afghanistan: After more than a decade of fighting, the administration is looking at a drawdown — or complete withdrawal — of U.S. troops from Afghanistan over the next two years.
How does the nominee see the threat from al-Qaeda, the Taliban and the Haqqani network? What should the future U.S. presence be, and how ready are the Afghan forces to meet the insurgent threat?
Iran: From its nuclear program to its ballistic missiles to terrorism, the Islamic Republic is arguably the greatest threat to international security today.
Committee members need to ask how Washington should deal with the growing threat “radiating” from Tehran. (Hagel has pushed for direct talks, while pushing against economic sanctions and force.)
Defense Budget: Some believe Hagel is being sent to the Pentagon with a cleaver to hack away at an already-shrinking defense budget; his past comments on Pentagon spending makes this concern credible.
Senators should drill down on what Hagel plans to recommend for a Defense Department that’s endured more than 10 years of war and is in dire need of recapitalization.
Missile Defense: North Korea successfully tested a long-range ballistic missile recently and is reportedly getting ready for another nuclear test. Iran’s ballistic missile and nuclear programs aren’t far behind.
Considering the lack of progress in dealing with these growing threats, how does Hagel plan to prioritize the development and deployment of missile defenses — our best option at the moment?
Nukes: The prez sees himself as a modern-day proliferation Pied Piper, believing he can lead the likes of Russia, North Korea and, eventually, Iran down the road to total nuclear disarmament or “Nuclear Zero.”
Hagel is reportedly in sync with Obama on this issue. Considering the world today, does the prospective secretary really believe further reductions, including possible unilateral U.S. disarmament, are wise?
Middle East: The region is nothing less than a mess, with ineffective U.S. policies a big part of the problem: Syria is on fire; Egypt after two years of the “Arab Spring” is a big question mark, and other pro-West regimes are teetering.
The senators should press Hagel to unpack administration plans for protecting and advancing American interests in this important region, including the nominee’s view on our security relationship with Israel.
Terrorism: Al-Qaeda affiliates and other militants are on a tear in places like Syria, Libya, Mali and Nigeria. The terror group may be “on the run” as the president has suggested, but it seems like it’s running to any place where U.S. troops or drones aren’t.
What does Hagel see as our strategy going forward on fighting terrorism? What role will Obama’s second-term Pentagon play in dealing with the al-Qaeda resurgence?
China: With its runaway military buildup — especially its naval, air, missile, strategic, cyber and space forces — Beijing is on a trajectory to challenge Washington’s military dominance in the Pacific.
Committee members should probe how Hagel plans to project American power into the Pacific, considering budget constraints. Is Team Obama’s rebalancing to the Pacific going to be a powerful pivot or more of a plucky pirouette?
The concern, of course, is that Hagel — like Kerry — will push U.S. foreign and defense policy violently left, more in line with Obama’s real sentiments. So a solid airing of the issues this week is critical.
Peter Brookes is a Heritage Foundation senior fellow and a former deputy assistant secretary of defense.
First appeared in The New York Post.