Hagel tells US Congress he is prepared to act on Iran but stresses caution
By Phil Stewart and Patricia Zengerle, ReutersWASHINGTON -- Chuck Hagel has told Congress that if confirmed as the next U.S. defense secretary he would ensure America's military is prepared to strike Iran if necessary but stressed the need to be “cautious and certain” when contemplating the use of force.
February 1, 2013, 2:29 pm TWN
Hagel's views were detailed in 112 pages of written responses to wide-ranging questions by lawmakers submitted ahead of his confirmation hearing on Thursday. In them, he also voiced support for a steady U.S. drawdown in Afghanistan.
Hagel, himself a former Republican senator from Nebraska, assured the committee that the United States would maintain an “unshakeable” commitment to Israel's security and voiced support for President Barack Obama's position that no options should be taken off the table to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. That language is generally used to suggest the possibility of a military strike.
“If confirmed, I will focus intently on ensuring that (the) U.S. military is in fact prepared for any contingency,” Hagel wrote, according to a copy of the questions and answers obtained by Reuters.
“While there is time and space for diplomacy, backed by pressure, the window is closing. Iran needs to demonstrate it is prepared to negotiate seriously.”
Like other defense chief nominees before him, Hagel noted that he would use caution before committing troops to war. But he said his experience as an infantryman in Vietnam would inform his role as defense secretary, where he would be entrusted with winding down the conflict in Afghanistan.
The decorated Vietnam veteran, who fought alongside his younger brother, Tom, for 10 months that included the bloody Tet Offensive, told Congress: “I understand what it is like to be a soldier in war.”
“I also understand what happens when there is poor morale and discipline among the troops and a lack of clear objectives, intelligence, and command and control from Washington,” he wrote.
He said he would draw on that experience to “ensure that we are cautious and certain when contemplating the use of force.”
As for Afghanistan, Hagel said he agreed with Obama's plans for a steady drawdown ahead of the end-of-2014 deadline for NATO to formally end the war, leaving behind a small contingent of foreign forces.
“At this time, I do not foresee any realistic conditions that would preclude this transition from being completed responsibly by the end of 2014,” Hagel wrote.