Traverse City Record-Eagle


January 12, 2013

Fact Check: Hagel's record

An ad from a pro-Israel group oversimplifies Chuck Hagel's foreign policy positions in an attempt to portray Obama's choice for secretary of defense as soft on Iran.

The ad claims Hagel voted against sanctions on Iran. It's true that Hagel opposed unilateral U.S. sanctions, but he has voiced support for multilateral sanctions, such as those imposed by the United Nations.

The claim that "Hagel voted against labeling Iran's revolutionary guard a terrorist group," is also accurate, but incomplete. Hagel has repeatedly called Iran a state sponsor of terror, but he opposed a Senate resolution to designate the revolutionary guard as such because he feared it was a precursor to a military attack — which he opposed.

The ad uses an outdated quote from Hagel calling military action against Iran "not a viable, feasible, responsible option," to suggest his position is at odds with Obama's. The quote in the ad is from 2006. Since then, Hagel has said the U.S. should keep "military options" available.

On Jan. 7, Obama formally tapped Hagel to run the Pentagon. The move quickly set off a wave of opposition from some pro-Israel groups that view Hagel as soft of Iran. The group Emergency Committee for Israel created a website,, that seeks to make the case that Hagel is "not a responsible option." The group also aired a cable TV ad in the Washington, D.C., area opposing Hagel's nomination.

Hagel, a decorated Vietnam veteran and former Republican senator from Nebraska, has long pushed for diplomacy over military threats when it comes to Iran. But the ad from the Emergency Committee for Israel broad-brushes Hagel's nuanced views to present an overly simplistic and incomplete portrait of his position.

On sanctions against Iran

For example, the ad says simply that Hagel "voted against" sanctions on Iran. That's true, but that doesn't mean that he opposes all Iran sanctions.

Hagel, a senator from 1997 to 2009, has voted against unilateral U.S. sanctions against Iran, describing them as ineffective and counterproductive. But he has repeatedly voiced support for multilateral sanctions, such as U.N. sanctions. He also offered an amendment in 2001 that would have extended U.S. sanctions against Iran for two years rather than five — a position taken by the Bush administration.

Emergency Committee for Israel TV ad, "Not An Option":

President Obama says he supports sanctions on Iran. Hagel voted against them.

He was one of only two senators who voted against the "ILSA Extension Act of 2001," which passed 96-2 on July 25, 2001. The bill extended for five years the "Iran and Libya Sanctions Act of 1996," which imposes sanctions on companies that make certain investments in both countries.

But Hagel's position is more nuanced than his critics are willing to admit.

In committee, Hagel said he agreed "with the objectives of Iran and Libya Sanctions Act," but took the position that unilateral action proved to be ineffective.

Hagel, June 28, 2001: I fully agree with the objectives of the Iran and Libya Sanctions Act (ILSA). Combating proliferation and terrorism must remain at the forefront of our foreign policy. I do not agree, however, with a "face value" policy that seeks to combat these twin scourges unilaterally. ILSA cannot work. It has not worked. Right objectives but wrong policy.

Even so, Hagel offered an amendment in committee to the "ILSA Extension Act of 2001"³ that would have extended the law for two years, rather than five — as requested by the Bush administration. Republican Sen. Mike Enzi of Wyoming explained on the Senate floor why he supported Hagel's amendment, which ultimately failed.

Enzi, July 25, 2001: At the Banking Committee markup, I supported Senator Hagel's amendment, which would have reauthorized ILSA for two years, and more importantly, required the President to report to the Congress on the effectiveness of the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act. The administration also requested a two-year reauthorization so it could have a better opportunity to review its effectiveness. It is reasonable and prudent policy to review sanctions laws on a periodic basis.

In July 2008, Hagel again found himself in the minority and, this time, at odds with Obama. Hagel was one of only two senators on the Senate Committee on Banking who voted against the "Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act of 2008," which passed 19-2. (Enzi was the other "no" vote.)

The bill, which did not come up for a vote in the full Senate until after Hagel had left the Senate, would have expanded the sanctions to include, among others, financial institutions and foreign countries that do business with Iran. It also would have encouraged state and local government pension plans to divest from Iran's energy sector. News accounts at the time said Hagel opposed it because it could undermine multilateral talks on Iran's nuclear ambitions., a Croatian national newspaper, July 17, 2008: Sen. Chuck Hagel, a Nebraska Republican who voted against the bill, said it "does not sanction Iran. It directly sanctions (U.S.) allies, friends and others." Hagel also noted some progress was being seen on Iran, such as nuclear talks this weekend in Geneva between Iran, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China. A U.S. envoy will attend, a major shift in U.S. policy.

Obama did not sit on the Banking Committee and, therefore, didn't vote on it. But he issued a statement on the day of the committee vote, praising the bill and urging the full Senate to pass it. He also spoke in support of the bill while campaigning for president in 2008.

While it is clear that Hagel did vote against unilateral sanctions against Iran, he also repeatedly voiced support for multilateral sanctions.

As he did in 2001, Hagel expressed support for working with other nations to bring financial pressure on Iran — this time in a 2007 letter to President George W. Bush. The letter urged Bush to engage Iran in direct talks. Hagel also expressed support for working "with our allies on financial pressure" on Iran through the United Nations Security Council.

Hagel, Oct. 17, 2007: Now is the time for the United States to active(ly) consider when and how to offer direct, unconditional, and comprehensive talks with Iran. The offer should be made even as we continue to work with our allies on financial pressure, in the UN Security Council on a third sanctions resolution, and in the region to support those Middle East countries who share our concerns with Iran. "¦ An approach such as this would strengthen our ability across the board to deal with Iran. Our friends and allies would be more confident to stand with us if we seek to increase pressure, including tougher sanctions on Iran.

A few weeks later, Hagel gave a speech on Iran at the Center for Strategic and International Studies that was critical of the Bush administration's unilateral actions against Iran.

In his speech, he criticized Iran as "a state sponsor of terrorism" whose president "publicly threatens Israel's existence." He also criticized Bush for seeking unilateral sanctions, saying the U.S. instead should engage in direct talks with Iran and work with "our allies on multilateral sanctions applying financial pressure."

Hagel, Nov. 8, 2007: The offer (of direct talks) should be made even as we continue other elements of our strategy "¦ working with our allies on multilateral sanctions applying financial pressure "¦ working in the UN Security Council on a third sanctions resolution "¦ and working in the region to support those Middle East countries who share our concerns with Iran.

Again, Hagel didn't oppose all sanctions.

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