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What Chuck Hagel would, and wouldn't, bring to job of Defense secretary

Chuck Hagel, a storied Republican maverick with a record of voting against his party, opposed the war in Iraq, supports engagement with Iran, and backed Barack Obama in his first presidential run.

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“It’s easy to get into war, not so easy to get out,” Hagel wrote in a 2009 opinion piece for the Washington Post. “Accordingly, we cannot view US involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan through a lens that sees only ‘winning’ or ‘losing.’ Iraq and Afghanistan are not America’s to win or lose,” he wrote. “Win what? We can help them buy time or develop, but we cannot control their fates.” 

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Hagel is also known – and reviled in some conservative circles – for favoring US talks with Iran, as has Obama. 

In a speech this week at the Atlantic Council, which Hagel directs, he pressed this case, without ever mentioning America’s arch-adversary directly. “Engagement is not surrender. It’s not appeasement,” he told the assembled audience. Rather it is “an opportunity to better understand” others.

America will need allies, too, he noted, because the conflicts of the future “are beyond the control of any great power,” he argued, and unlikely to involve unilateral US action. 

But perhaps his most vocal detractors are likely to come from advocates of Israel. The home page of the Atlantic Council, for example, features a critical piece on “Israel’s Apartheid Policy.” 

“While in the Senate, Hagel voted against designating the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist group, and consistently voted against sanctions on Iran for their illicit pursuit of nuclear weapons capability,” Josh Block, a former spokesman for the American Israel Pubic Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and president of the Israel Project, told The Daily Beat. “It is a matter of fact that his record on these issues puts him well outside the mainstream Democratic and Republican consensus.” 

Unlike current Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Hagel is also said to be rather unsympathetic to the Pentagon’s pleas of the pending insolvency it claims could come with sequestration, the series of $500 billion in mandatory cuts the Department of Defense faces if Congress doesn’t come up with another fiscal plan by Jan. 2. 

“The Defense Department, I think, in many ways, has become bloated,” Hagel said in 2011. “In many ways, I think the Pentagon needs to be pared down.” 

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