WASHINGTON - Thursday, the U S Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing before considering confirmation of former US Senator Chuck Hagel as the Obama Administration's new defense secretary. Hagel's nomination has raised controversy in light of his criticism of Israel while he served in the Senate, as well as his support for cutting the Pentagon's budget.
Hagel's nomination puts Illinois U.S. Senator Mark Kirk in a precarious position. Kirk, like Hagel, is Republican. Kirk, who remained active in the Navy Reserves until his stroke a year ago, is a strong military advocate, and is likely to be interested in exactly how Hagel would guide the Pentagon through expected dramatic cuts. Kirk also hails from a Chicago suburb with a concentrated Jewish population. But Kirk prides himself on being a moderate Republican.
How will Senator Kirk vote on the Hagel confirmation, Illinois Review asked this week. The answer back was evasive, but with a clear hint of concern.
"Senator Kirk appreciates and respects Senator Hagel¹s service to our country, especially as a decorated combat veteran," Kirk spokesman Lance Trover said. "However, the Senator has made it very clear that he has concerns about Senator Hagel¹s past record and statements on a number of issues and will be asking serious questions as this process moves forward."
One of Hagel's most controversial critiques of Israel was featured in Hagel's Nebraska hometown paper 2003 interview with the Lincoln Journal Star, in which Hagel said there was "no justification for Palestinian suicide bombers," but neither was there justification for Israel to "keep Palestinians caged up like animals."
While AIPAC has not spoken out on the Hagel nominiation, shortly after learning of Obama's choice for defense secretary, the Republican Jewish Coalition issued a statement saying that the confirmation would be “a slap in the face for every American who is concerned about the safety of Israel."
Senator James Inhofe, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, has made it clear he is opposed to Hagel succeeding Leon Panetta in the key administration post.
"Unfortunately, as I told him during our meeting today, we are simply too philosophically opposed on the issues for me to support his nomination," Inhofe told Israel National News.
Hagel is endorsed by Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) , Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Illinois' senior Senator Dick Durbin, who said Hagel is "an excellent choice" for Secretary of Defense.