Former U.S. Senator Chuck Hagel, a twice-wounded Vietnam War veteran, is “superbly qualified” to run the Pentagon, former Secretary of State Colin Powell said today in a television interview.
Powell, a Republican like Hagel, appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press” program, rejecting criticism from other party members over a comment the former Nebraska lawmaker made about the “Jewish lobby” and a 2007 vote opposing designation of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps as a terrorist group.
“He is a very strong supporter of the state of Israel,” Powell said. “It doesn’t mean you have to agree with every single position the Israeli government takes.”
Hagel, 66, has come under attack from Republicans including Senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John Cornyn of Texas, members of Senate Armed Services Committee that will handle the nomination. Cornyn has said he opposes the nomination.
While Powell was leading the State Department under Republican President George W. Bush, Hagel criticized the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq that the retired general supported. Today on NBC, Powell said Hagel “is a solid guy who speaks his mind.”
“He’s ultimately superbly qualified based on his overall record, his service to the country, how he feels about the troops and their families,” Powell said.
Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said on ABC’s “This Week” that Hagel’s “overall temperament” will be discussed in committee hearings, as well as his stance on Iran and Israel.
Hagel’s close relationship with Democratic President Barack Obama will be an asset, Senator Jack Reed, a Democrat from Rhode Island who sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said on ABC’s “This Week.” Reed predicted Hagel will have “strong support” following the hearings.
“Chuck has the wherewithal and the ability to speak truth to power,” Reed said. “He’s demonstrated that throughout his entire career. That is a value that is extraordinarily important to the president, and I think he recognizes that, and I think that will be one of his virtues as secretary of defense.”
Senator John McCain, a Republican on the same committee and also a Vietnam Veteran, declined to say whether he would vote for or against Hagel, whom he described as a friend. Hagel was co-chairman of McCain’s unsuccessful 2000 campaign for president.
McCain said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” program that he has “legitimate questions that need to be asked.”
Hagel in a Financial Times interview last year said, “I think the Pentagon needs to be pared down. I don’t think that our military has really looked at themselves strategically, critically, in a long, long time.”
At least one prominent Democratic lawmaker and supporter of Israel has been lukewarm toward the nomination. New York Senator Charles Schumer said he wants to review Hagel’s positions before making a decision.
Tara Andringa, a Senate Armed Services panel spokeswoman, said in an e-mail statement yesterday that Hagel’s nomination hearing “will likely” be in late January or early February.
“The White House can’t nominate him until the Senate comes back into session,” she said. That won’t occur until after the Inauguration next week.
Senator Carl Levin, the Michigan Democrat who leads the panel, plans to set the hearing “quickly” after receiving the nomination, Andringa said.