NBC News | January 31, 2013
>> great members of this committee who have contributed so much to our nation's defense. senator hagel , members of this committee will raise questions reflecting concerns with your policy positions. they're not reasonable people disagreeing, they're fundamental disagreements. our concerns pertain to the quality of your professional judgment and your world view on critical areas of national security including security in the middle east . with that in mind, let me begin with your opposition to the surge in iraq . 2006 we lost -- republicans lost the election and we began the surge, and you wrote a piece in "the washington post ," quote, leaving iraq honorably. 2007 you committed -- you said it's not in the national interest to deepen its military involvement. in january of 2007 in a rather bizarre exchange with secretary rice in the foreign relations committee after some nonsense about syria and crossing the border into iran and syria because of the surge, then a reference to cambodia in 1970 , you said, quote, when you set in motion the kind of policy the president is talking about here, it's very, very dangerous. quote, as a matter of fact, i have to say, madam secretary, i think the speech given last night by this president represents the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since vietnam it's carried out, i will resist it. and then, of course, you continued on and on for months afterwards talking about what a disaster the surge would be, even to the point where it was clear the surge was succeeding. in march 2008 , you said, quote, here the term quagmire could apply. if that's not a quagmire, then what is? even as late as august 29, 2011 , in an interview, 2011 , in an interview with the financial times , you said i disagreed with president obama , his decision to surge in iraq as i did with president bush on the surge in iraq . do you stand by that -- those comments, senator hagel ?
>> well, senator, i stand by them because i made them.
>> were you right? were you correct in your assessment?
>> well, i would defer to the judgment of history to sort that out --
>> the committee deserves your judgment as to whether you were right or wrong about the surge?
>> i'll explain why i made those comments.
>> i want to know if you were right or wrong. that's a direct question , i expect a direct answer.
>> the surge assisted in the objective but if we review the record a little bit --
>> will you please answer the question, were you correct or incorrect when you said that the surge would be the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since vietnam ? were you correct or incorrect? yes or no?
>> my reference to --
>> are you going to answer the question, senator hagel ? the question is, were you right or wrong? that's a pretty straightforward question. i would like an answer right or wrong and then you are free to elaborate.
>> well, i'm not going to give you a yes or no answer.
>> show that you refuse to answer the question now please go ahead.
>> well, if you would like me to explain why --
>> i actually would like an answer, yes or no.
>> well, i'm not going to given you a yes or no, i think it's far more complicated than that as i've already said. i'll defer that judgment to history. as to the comment i made about the most dangerous foreign policy decision since vietnam was about not just the surge but the overall war of choice going into iraq . that particular decision that was made on the surge, but more to the point our war in iraq , i think was the most fundamentally bad, dangerous decision since vietnam . aside from the costs that owe occurred in this country to blood and treasure, aside what that did to take our focus off of afghanistan , which, in fact, was the original and real focus of the national threat to this country, iraq was not, i always try to frame all the different issues before i made a decision on anything. now just as you said, senator, we can have differences of opinion, but that's essentially why i took the position i did.
>> it's a fundamental difference of opinion, senator hagel , and senator graham and i and senator lieberman when there were 59 votes in the united states senate spent our time trying to prevent that 60th. thank god for senator lieberman . i think history has already made a judgment about the surge, sir, and you're on the wrong side of it. and your refusal to answer whether you were right or wrong about it is going to have an impact on my judgment as to whether or not to vote for your confirmation or not. i hope you will reconsider the fact you refused to answer a fundamental question about an issue that took the lives of thousands of young americans .
>> senator, there was more to it than just flooding --
>> i'm asking about the surge, senator hagel .
>> i know you are and i'm trying to explain my position. the beginning of the surge also factored into what general allen had put in place in anbar province , the sunni awaken iing. we put over, as you know, 100,000 --
>> i'm very aware of the history of the surge and the anbar awakening , and i also am aware any casual observer will know the surge was the fundamental factor led by two great leaders, general petraeus and --
>> i don't know if that would have been required and cost us over 1,000 american lives and thousands of wounded --
>> you don't know if the surge would have been required. okay. senator hagel , let me go back to syria now. more than 60,000 people have been killed in syria . do you believe that we should be more engaged in syria ?
>> i know this administration is very engaged in working with its partners.
>> so you don't think we should do more?
>> well, when you say do more, do you mean --
>> do you think we should put -- make sure that the syrians get the weapons they need and perhaps establish a no-fly zone? do you think we do?
>> i believe that part of our review is looking at those options.
>> it's been 22 months, senator hagel .
>> well, i wasn't there. i don't know the details. i'm not there now.
>> i'm sure you've read in the newspapers 60,000 people have been killed and that it's in danger of spilling over into neighboring countries. my question, i guess, is how many more would have to die before you would support an arming the resistance and establishing a no-fly zone?
>> well, i don't think anyone questions the terrible tragedy that is occurring there every day. it's a matter of how best do we work our way through this so that we can stop it to begin with. and then what comes next?
>> do you disagree with president obama on his decision for the surge in afghanistan ?
>> i didn't think that we should get ourselves into -- first of all, i had no original position as far as no formal position, but i didn't think --
>> you were quoted in august of 2011 saying i disagreed with president obama on his decision to surge in afghanistan .
>> that was my personal opinion, yes.
>> thank you, mr. chairman.
>> thank you, senator mccain . senator