Video: Sen. John McCain and Chuck Hagel tangle over Iraq
Sen. John McCain had a feisty exchange with Chuck Hagel about the Iraq troop surge at Senate confirmation hearings for President Obama's pick for secretary of defense.
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Hagel has been meeting one-on-one with senators, winning support from influential Jewish Sen. Charles Schumer, and he has taken a harder line on Iran. Hagel also has insisted that he will implement the military's policy allowing gays to serve openly and move ahead on opening combat roles to women.Skip to next paragraph
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Hagel would be the lone Republican in Obama's Cabinet if the Senate confirms him, but the prospect has failed to placate Republican senators in a post-election atmosphere that remains politically divisive.
Once the hearing was under way, the Republican National Committee put out a news release titled "Chuck Hagel is the Wrong Choice for Secretary of Defense," contending that he would weaken the nation's military.
Hagel said he was committed to Obama's goal of ensuring that Iran does not obtain a nuclear weapon, and he insisted that all options, including military force, are on the table.
"My policy is one of prevention, and not one of containment — and the president has made clear that is the policy of our government," Hagel said.
Hagel said he always supported multilateral sanctions against Iran. He also expressed support for maintaining a strong, modern nuclear arsenal, a position that has been challenged because of his support for the Global Zero organization's recommendation of nuclear cuts.
"We are not going to unilaterally disarm," Hagel said.
Hagel added that America "must engage — not retreat — in the world," and he insisted that his record is consistent on that point.
If confirmed, Hagel, a decorated Vietnam combat veteran, would be the first enlisted man and first Vietnam veteran to serve as defense secretary.
Six Republicans, including four members of the Armed Services panel, have said they will oppose Hagel's nomination.
In responses to a questionnaire before the hearing, Hagel adopted a hard line on Iran and its possible pursuit of a nuclear weapon. He echoed Obama's view that all options are feasible to stop Tehran, praised the rounds of penalties and warned of "severe and growing consequences" if Iran balks at international demands.
He said that he would continue to put in place the "smart, unprecedented and effective sanctions against the Iranian regime" that Congress and the Obama administration have adopted in recent years.
The criticism of Hagel has surprised some of Hagel's strongest backers.
"This idea that's being propagated that he might be soft on adversaries. Chuck Hagel's not soft on anybody, particularly himself," said Democratic Sen. Jack Reed, a member of the Armed Services Committee, in a conference call with Hagel allies.
Associated Press writer Donna Cassata contributed.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.