No really, in response to a low but sustained murmur of conservative attacks on Chuck Hagel’s previous support for reducing the number of nuclear weapons, Team Hagel now has an “Atomic War Room.”
“Team Hagel is planning a full scale defense of the senator's record on nuclear issues,” said an official close to the confirmation team. “Some have wrongly suggested that he wants to unilaterally close America's nuclear arsenal. Nothing could be further from the truth. He firmly believes in a strong nuclear deterrent as long as we face nuclear threats.”
Hagel’s team has already said they were going on the attack. They defended Hagel’s nuclear record as one point of a seven-point myths vs. realties fact sheet released two weeks ago.
So why now? Are nuclear issues that big of a worry for Team Hagel? Or are they just trying to get out ahead of conservative senators, who seem to be running out of anti-Hagel ammunition? Worries of Hagel’s support for Israel and gay rights have come and gone. But nuclear issues -- fully funding nuclear labs and construction of new delivery vehicles like submarines and the next long-range bomber -- may get more play in Hagel’s confirmation hearing next Thursday. Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) faced several nuclear-related questions in his own confirmation hearing on Wednesday.
Either way, President Obama has made nuclear issues and disarmament a foreign policy priority. But his verve for the issue has never been picked up and matched by his first two Pentagon chiefs, Robert Gates and Leon Panetta.
With Hagel, Obama has picked a SecDef who spent the last few years advocating for disarmament.
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