According to his advocates, Chuck Hagel is both a maestro of geopolitics and a lonely voice of political courage. But one supporter, Senator Chuck Schumer, has done Mr. Hagel no favors by implying him to be either massively ignorant of history or willing to say anything to become secretary of defense.
In a recent interview, Mr. Schumer said Mr. Hagel is explaining his past conciliation toward Iran by claiming Iran is more dangerous now than it was when he was a senator: “He basically said, look, the bottom line is the world has changed since 2005, ’06, and ’07. Iran is far more dangerous and far more militant than it was then. He said Hamas and Hezbollah are closer to Iran and more militant and worse.”
Iran was less dangerous in 2005, 2006, and 2007? That would come as a surprise to the soldiers killed by Iranian weapons in Iraq. In those years, Iran was smuggling a particularly lethal kind of roadside bomb into Iraq. Known as an explosively formed projectile (EFP), this bomb could penetrate even an Abrams tank. I led an infantry platoon in Baghdad in 2006. We had a fatalistic view of EFPs; unlike many bombs, the only way to survive an EFP was not to hit one. I reviewed post-blast analyses with gruesome pictures of blood-soaked, twisted, charred steel of something that once resembled a Humvee. To be fair, though, perhaps Mr. Hagel didn’t think these acts of war made Iran dangerous at the time. After all, he voted in 2007 against designating Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist organization, even though it was responsible for the EFPs.
Iran was less dangerous from 2005 to 2007? That would also surprise the Israelis who lost their lives when Hezbollah rained down rockets on civilians in the summer of 2006, forcing Israel to take defensive action against that terrorist group. Iran provided these rockets (and much else) to Hezbollah. But again, perhaps Mr. Hagel was untroubled at the time because he refused to sign a bipartisan letter asking the European Union to designate Hezbollah a terrorist organization.
Iran was less militant from 2005 to 2007? Today, the president of Iran is Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a vile Holocaust denier who has repeatedly violated international conventions by inciting genocide against the Israelis. Mr. Ahmadinejad was first elected, of course, in 2005. That’s also when he first said, “Israel must be wiped off the map.” In 2006, he said “the Zionist regime soon [will] be wiped out.” It’s hard to imagine how such a man could become more militant.
And this is to say nothing about Mr. Hagel’s alarming views that Hamas and Hezbollah, organizations birthed in terror and dedicated to Israel’s destruction, were ever less militant. Or that many principled leaders were warning in 2005–07 that Iran would grow stronger and bolder — yes, more dangerous still — if we followed Mr. Hagel’s foolhardy course.
Could Mr. Hagel truly be ignorant of these and other basic facts? That alone would be deeply troubling. But, the simpler explanation, of course, is that Mr. Hagel will say anything to win confirmation. Senator Roger Wicker believes so. What’s worse, Mr. Hagel’s confirmation-eve conversions are done privately to secure votes without scrutiny or consistency. At his confirmation hearings, Mr. Hagel must be called to account for his shifting views.
— Tom Cotton is a Republican congressman from Arkansas.