It was with considerable disappointment that I read the wildly inaccurate OpEd by Fred Hill in the BDN on Feb. 19 criticizing my position on the confirmation of Chuck Hagel to be defense secretary. That he launched this assault without any attention whatsoever to my actual statement explaining my position reveals extremely sloppy research. Just about the only thing that Hill got right is that I do oppose the nomination of Chuck to be secretary.
I spent 90 minutes meeting with Chuck discussing a wide range of issues, and I have carefully reviewed the lengthy hearing on his nomination. Rather than “vague and ideologically driven rationale,” my four-page statement of Feb. 13 announcing my decision to vote against his nomination, but not to support a filibuster of a Cabinet-nominee absent extraordinary circumstances, could not be more detailed and focused on the real-world challenges to our national security.
Hill’s charge that I “noted Hagel’s opposition to the surge in Iraq” is simply false. My opposition to Chuck’s confirmation has absolutely nothing to do with his opposition to the surge, an issue I have never mentioned regarding his nomination.
Nor is Benghazi an issue I “cling to in opposing Obama on virtually every tough issue.” The only mention of Benghazi in my statement is in a list of critical threats that Islamist extremism presents to the world. This list also included the fact that the top bomb maker for al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula remains at large and that Hezbollah and Hamas continue to rearm in Lebanon and Gaza.
In my judgment, Islamist terrorism, a nuclear-armed North Korea, a potentially nuclear-armed Iran, an unstable and chaotic Middle East, cyber attacks, Chinese provocations and budget constraints across the federal government are some of the greatest threats facing our country. It is telling and disturbing that when I asked Chuck what he believes are the greatest threats, he identified world population and resource shortage. While there no doubt will be tremendous challenges associated with this development, his response concerns me when I consider all of the enormous near-term threats.
On the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran, Chuck has opposed unilateral sanctions by the United States because he says they do not work. This is contrary to my experience. Multilateral sanctions can be effective, but the United States’ imposition of sanctions — even if we were to act virtually alone — not only helps to disrupt Iran’s nuclear program but also demonstrates moral leadership.
In our meeting, Chuck explained to me that he abstained from sending letters to foreign leaders on policy issues because he believes that the president, not Congress, conducts foreign policy. It is a principle he has not always adhered to, and I am at a loss to explain why he would not make another exception on a matter as grave and as clear as identifying Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. In 2006, 88 senators — including then-Sens. Obama and Hillary Clinton — asked the European Union to designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. Chuck did not support this reasonable request, despite the fact that Hezbollah has more American blood on its hands than any other terrorist organization besides al-Qaeda.
Finally, Hill overlooked the only vote to date regarding Chuck’s nomination. Last Thursday, the Senate voted on whether the president should receive an up or down vote on his nominee. Although there were insufficient votes to end a filibuster, I was one of only four senators to split with their party. As a general rule, I believe a president has the right to choose his cabinet and that the filibuster should be used only in extraordinary circumstances.
Chuck’s courageous military service deserves our respect and gratitude, and I know he cares deeply about the men and women who serve our country. I do not believe, however, that he is the right person to lead our military in these difficult times. This is a decision that I do not take lightly. Rather than “vague and ideologically driven rationale,” my decision is based on solid facts: the nominee’s past positions, votes and statements.
Susan Collins is a Republican senator from Maine.