Former George W. Bush administration US Ambassador to Iraq, Afghanistan and the United Nations — as well as former National Security Council Senior Director for Southwest Asia, Near East, and North African Affairs — Zalmay Khalilzad shared with me some thoughts on the possible nomination of Senator Chuck Hagel to serve as President Obama’s Secretary of Defense.
Khalilzad enjoys a distinguished record in national security circles, having also served as a long time senior analyst at the RAND Corporation. He is widely considered to be a leading neoconservative thinker and policy practitioner and was an active supporter of the Bill Kristol/Robert Kagan-led Project for a New American Century, which provided the primary foundation for foreign policy-oriented neoconservatives during the Clinton era.
What follows are Ambassador Khalilzad’s responses to questions I posed regarding Hagel.
Clemons: Can you share your thoughts on the strengths and/or weaknesses that Senator Chuck Hagel might bring to the position of Secretary of Defense?
Khalilzad: He is a patriot who has fought for his country. He is courageous and is not afraid to express his views–when when those views are not popular. I have not always agreed with Chuck Hagel’s views. But I have always admired him for having the courage of his convictions.
Clemons: Senator Hagel has been challenged as being an enemy of Israel – and for making homophobic remarks 14 years ago about the then nomination of US Ambassador to Luxembourg James Hormel. Others argue that Hagel has been supportive of Israel’s interests but in a way that doesn’t make a false choice between Israel and Arab states and doesn’t compromise core US national security interests. Do you think his views on US-Israel relations are disturbing, unconstructive and disqualifying? Do you believe that Hagel is an enemy of Israel? Or do you find his views, if you are familiar with them, constructive and realistic takes on US-Middle East policy?
Khalilzad: I have not heard him say anything that would indicate that he is an enemy of Israel.
Clemons: Hagel has also apologized to Hormel for his past remarks and has indicated support for ‘open service’ in the military and protection and support of LGBT families. Do you believe that given the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and the rise of LGBT issues in American society and culture that Hagel’s remarks 14 years ago are disqualifying? Given that he is likely to be asked about this issue in a Senate confirmation hearing and will be able to make clear his views, does he need to do more now to alleviate concerns about his views toward the LGBT community?
Khalilzad: He has apologized for his statement of some 14 years ago and has clarified his current position on this sensitive and important issue. That was a different era; the country as a whole has undergone enormous change on this matter, and so has he, it seems.
Clemons: Any other thoughts, views, concerns, or insights you would like to share?
Khalilzad: He deserves serious consideration to be the next Secretary of Defense.