Some questions for Hagel

| Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013, 9:00 p.m.


Senate hearings on the nomination of Chuck Hagel to be Defense secretary will be a distinctive Washington entertainment, a donnybrook without drama. He should be confirmed: Presidents are due substantial deference in selecting Cabinet members because they administer presidential policies and, unlike judicial appointments, they leave when their nominators do.

Still, the hearings will be sound and fury signifying renewed interest in national security policy, which can be illuminated by Hagel addressing questions like these:

• In 1997, 28 years after you returned from Vietnam with two Purple Hearts, we heard a May 27, 1964, taped telephone conversation in which President Lyndon Johnson said to his national security adviser, McGeorge Bundy: “I don't think it's worth fighting for and I don't think we can get out.” Johnson also said: “What in the hell is Vietnam worth to me? What is Laos worth to me? What is it worth to this country?” How did this tape, and Vietnam generally, shape your thinking?

• Your critics say that you managed to be wrong on Iraq twice, by supporting the 2003 invasion and by opposing the 2007 surge. If the surge had not happened, what would have happened in Iraq?

• How many sorties would be required to significantly degrade and delay Iran's nuclear program? Can Israel mount such an air campaign alone? Would you favor U.S. cooperation, with intelligence and special munitions?

• Did you refuse to sign a 2006 letter urging the European Union to declare Hezbollah a terrorist organization because you consider that designation inaccurate? From your 2009 endorsement of U.S. negotiations with Hamas, can we conclude that you oppose the policy of not negotiating with terrorists?

• Do you agree with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta's judgment that cuts under sequestration would “hollow out the force”? Can you give examples of procurements or deployments that justify your description of the Defense Department as “bloated”?

• The Navy has nine aircraft carriers. Aircraft carrier groups are the principal means of projecting U.S. power. And they are very expensive. How many should we have? How is your calculation influenced by the fact that seven weeks ago China for the first time landed a fighter jet on the deck of an aircraft carrier?

• Congress' power to declare war has atrophied since it was last exercised in 1942. Should Congress authorize America's wars?

• In 2011, President Obama said our military “is being volunteered by others to carry out missions” in Libya. The original rationale for this was “R2P,” the responsibility to protect civilians. Do you support applying this doctrine to Syria? Do you dispute the illegality of Obama's ignoring the War Powers Resolution that requires military interventions to end after 60 days, absent congressional approval?

• Speaking of the imperial presidency, do you believe that the use of drones to target specific individuals means presidents have an unreviewable power to kill whomever they define as enemies?

• In 1949, one of NATO's founders said its purpose was “to keep the Americans in (Europe), the Germans down and the Russians out.” What is its purpose now?

Bonus question: Might fewer than 54,000 U.S. forces in Germany suffice to defend that country, or Western Europe, from whatever threat they are there to deter?

George F. Will is a columnist for The Washington Post and Newsweek.

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