Hagel’s qualifications? “I volunteered” and more of tomorrow's quotes today

What background and experience do you have that you believe qualifies you for this position?

“I volunteered for the draft and then volunteered to go to Vietnam after I received orders to go to Germany.” – Chuck Hagel

Chuck Hagel threw his combat infantry badge on the witness table with the above exchange, setting the tone for Thursday’s confirmation hearing in the Senate Armed Services Committee to become the next secretary of defense.

The above quote is pulled from Hagel’s answers to the committee’s questionnaire for all incoming presidential appointees.

Asked to list his qualifications, Hagel doesn’t start with his years ofservice on the same Senate Armed Services Committee, or as a global thinker leading the Atlantic Council, or as a Georgetown University professor.

With conservatives who never donned a uniform, like rookie Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), breathing down his neck, Hagel uses the first line of his answer to make clear to the committee the skill set that would make him the nation’s first enlisted man to become the secretary of defense.

Here’s the rest of the passage:

I served a twelve month tour which included the Tet Offensive in 1968. I rose to the rank of infantry Sergeant. For ten of those months, I served alongside my younger brother Tom. I understand what it is like to be a soldier in war. I also understand what happens when there is poor morale and discipline among the troops and a lack of clear objectives, intelligence, and command and control from Washington. I believe that experience will help me as Secretary of Defense to ensure we maintain the best fighting force in the world, protect our men and women in uniform, and ensure that we are cautious and certain when contemplating the use of force.

In this order, Hagel goes on to list his experiences: he co-authored the new G.I. Bill, so he understands the financial pressures on military families. He was wounded twice in Vietnam and appointed by President Reagan to a veteran’s board, so he understands those issues. Finally, Hagel lists his management experience.

Combat, Congress, families, veterans, management.  That’s all on page 2.

By page 3, Hagel addresses all of his critics, pledges to use special operations forces to combat the spread of terrorism (hawks complain he is a noninterventionist); to maintain the nuclear arsenal (GOP members argue he is soft on nukes.); to support Israel (both sides of the aisle have complaints here); to continue the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” (the Human Rights Campaign had to publicly support him on this one).

Here are 17 other quotes from Hagel's answers that you may well hear in the morning:

1.      “Committing our troops to any military operation is a grave decision, and one I, if confirmed, would make carefully and cautiously.”

2.      “I believe the Department’s strategy can be accomplished within the constraints of the Budget Control Act.”

3.      “I believe that the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan is sound. I also believe that, over time, the Administration should continue to assess the strategy.”

4.      “I support the President’s direction, articulated in the West Point speech, for ‘steady’ reductions [of U.S. troops in Afghanistan].”

5.      “I agree with President Obama that Afghan-led reconciliation is the surest way to end violence and ensure lasting stability in Afghanistan and the region. Most counterinsurgencies end in some form of negotiation.”

6.      “U.S. assistance to Pakistan should not be unconditional.”

7.      “While there is time and space for diplomacy, backed by pressure, the window is closing. Iran needs to demonstrate it is prepared to negotiate seriously.”

8.      “I also support the Administration’s approach to the ongoing crisis in Syria… I do not believe that providing lethal support to the armed opposition at this time will alleviate the horrible situation we see in Syria.”

9.      “A hollow force is one that has been rendered incapable of performing the mission that we expect it to conduct.”

10.  “The money provided in the continuing resolution does not provide sufficient funding in the right places, particularly critical operating accounts which could harm military readiness.”

11.  “As I have stated previously, I fully support the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and value the service of all those who fight for our country. If confirmed, I will do everything possible to the extent permissible under current law to provide equal benefits to the families of all our servicemembers.”

12.  “I strongly believe that anyone who commits a sexual assault in the military needs to be held accountable.”

13.  “I support the expansion of opportunities for women to serve.”

14.  “Given today’s budget environment, we must continue to look for savings opportunities, and this should include military health care.”

15.  “I would not have modified the withdrawal of all U.S. combat forces [from Iraq] by December 2011. I believe that the deadline helped the Iraqi Security Forces step up and take responsibility for the security of their people.”

16.  “Yes, I am concerned that the [NATO] Alliance is in danger of losing critical military capabilities if something does not change. The past decade-plus of fighting in Afghanistan has left the Alliance with worn equipment and depleted defense budgets.

17.   “I will make it a high priority to examine the health of this program to determine if it is on a sound footing and ensure the aircraft are delivered with the capability we need and a cost we can afford.”

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

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