Continued from page 1

His remarks on Iran generally excluded any criticism about the regime itself, did not endorse a military option to keep Tehran from building nuclear weapons and did not mention economic sanctions as an effective tool in persuading the regime to change its behavior.

On talk shows, he dismissed Mr. Bush’s position that Iran must heed a demand from the United Nations that it stop enriching uranium before direct discussions could happen.

Mr. Hagel called it a “diplomatic cul-de-sac we find ourselves in with Iran on our insistence, the U.S. insistence and our allies that preconditions be met before we will talk to you. And the Iranians have said, ‘No, we’re not going to do that.’”

At another public forum, he said: “We are afraid to talk with someone or we apply preconditions like it’s a great privilege to talk to the United States. That’s not diplomacy.”

On the Middle East

The historical record at this point shows that Mr. Obama’s olive branch to Tehran was a failure.

The administration sent a diplomatic message to Tehran saying direct, no-strings talks were possible. Weeks later, Mr. Obama sent a video to the people of Iran and its leaders calling for “engagement” and a “new beginning.”

Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei rejected the overture and berated the United States. There have been no direct talks in Mr. Obama’s first term.

In the Senate, where Mr. Hagel worked against additional sanctions on Iran, the mainstream position among Republicans and Democrats today is that the Islamic republic is moving closer to developing nuclear weapons and more sanctions are needed. Senators voted 94-0 in November to impose additional sanctions in the form of financial penalties on businesses involved in Iran’s energy and shipping sectors.

As senator, Mr. Hagel cited polls that showed America’s unpopularity in the Muslim world as a further indictment of the Bush administration.

Mr. Obama conducted a tour of the Middle East, absent Israel, in 2009 to criticize American foreign policy before Muslim audiences.

Yet America’s standing among Muslims worldwide has dropped sharply since Mr. Obama took office, according to a poll this year by the Pew Research Center. The poll found that only 15 percent of those surveyed in Muslim-dominated countries view the U.S. favorably, down from 25 percent in 2009 in a Pew poll. Approval of Mr. Obama’s foreign policies dropped from 34 percent to 15 percent.

Also during his first year as president, Mr. Obama was critical of Israel amid new flare-ups with the Hamas terrorist group that governs the Gaza Strip or with other Arab adversaries. His words followed closely the views of Mr. Hagel, who once remarked as a senator, “The Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here.”

By his last year in the Senate, Mr. Hagel had become a de facto Democrat. He traveled with Mr. Obama to Iraq during his presidential campaign, and on returning to Washington, he defended the Democratic candidate and criticized the Republican nominee, Sen. John McCain of Arizona.

Since leaving office, Mr. Hagel has endorsed Democrats running for the Senate.

Story Continues →