Continued from page 1

Mr. Hagel repeatedly defended himself on Israel, saying he was wrong to have said that the “Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here.”

He said he regretted using the phrase “Jewish lobby” and that “pro-Israel lobby” would have been better. Under intense questioning from Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, Mr. Hagel acknowledged that he couldn’t name anyone in the Senate he thought was intimidated, or any “dumb” decisions made because of influence from Israel.

On the issue of Iran, Mr. Hagel said his past opposition to sanctions wasn’t about coddling that nation’s rogue government. He said it was a question of whether that was the best strategy of tackling the problem at that time and of whether Congress should be trying to dictate foreign policy, which he said generally belongs to the executive branch.

“It was never a matter of differing objectives here; it was a matter of how best we can do it,” he said.

Mr. Hagel also ducked questions about whether the U.S. should take a more active role in Syria, saying he defers to the Obama administration’s stance.

But he repeatedly ran into his own long history with his former colleagues.

‘Out of the mainstream’

Sen. James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma, the ranking Republican on the committee, recalled trying to get Republicans to sign onto a letter in 2000 affirming solidarity with Israel, and Mr. Hagel was one of just four who refused to sign. In 2001, Mr. Hagel opposed extending harsh sanctions against Iran.

“On many of the security challenges facing U.S. interests around the world, Sen. Hagel’s record is deeply troubling and out of the mainstream,” Mr. Inhofe said.

Even as Democrats said Mr. Hagel’s assurances have assuaged them, Mr. Inhofe said they raised more questions in his mind.

“This apparent willingness to walk back or alter his positions for the sake of political expediency on such important issues is deeply troubling and sends a concerning message to our allies and adversaries alike,” Mr. Inhofe said.

Mr. Hagel was introduced to the committee by two former chairmen of the Armed Services Committee, former Sens. John W. Warner, Virginia Republican, and Sam Nunn, Georgia Democrat.

But it is telling that neither of Nebraska’s sitting senators, both of them Republicans, introduced him, which is the usual tradition for such hearings. Indeed, one of Nebraska’s two members, Sen. Deb Fischer, who sits on the committee, told Mr. Hagel that his views are “extreme.”

By contrast, Sen. John F. Kerry was introduced at his secretary of state confirmation hearing this week by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a fellow Massachusetts Democrat, by Mr. McCain, and by outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The hearing opened with a gay-rights protester standing in the middle of the hearing room, quietly asking whether Mr. Hagel would commit to grant equal rights to spouses of gay troops.

Story Continues →