The Iranian rulers love Chuck Hagel.
Iran’s official English language propaganda outlet, Press TV, has suggested that President Obama picked the former U.S. senator from Nebraska to replace departing Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta to help craft a “grand bargain with Iran.” You know, the type of deal that would cement in place the clerical dictatorship, spell the end of any hope for U.S. support to the pro-freedom movement, and allow Iran to continue enriching uranium with no verifiable limits.
Another publication has called Mr. Hagel’s selection “a message of peace from the Obama administration to the Islamic Republic of Iran,” and admiringly quoted Mr. Hagel as claiming sanctions on Iran “will only lead to U.S. isolation.”
Here in the United States, the pro-Tehran lobby was quick to champion Mr. Hagel’s cause. Trita Parsi, the president of the National Iranian American Council, argued that Mr. Hagel deserved support because he would oppose the “extremist pro-Likud circles who are seeking to establish a veto on U.S. national security policy.”
Such language, of course, is just a scantily veiled variation of Mr. Hagel’s own rant against “Jewish lobby” influence on U.S. politics.
Over the years, Mr. Hagel has developed an ongoing relationship with the American-Iranian Council, a precursor to the National Iranian American Council. Both groups oppose U.S. sanctions on Iran, support Iranian trade with U.S. businesses and promote unconditional U.S. negotiations with the Iranian regime over its nuclear program.
These are precisely the changes in U.S. policy that the Iranian regime is seeking. As a senator, Mr. Hagel was active in supporting all three.
In July 2001, Mr. Hagel was one of just two senators who opposed renewing the original Iran and Libya Sanctions Act. This was the initial effort by Congress to put pressure on the Iranian government by imposing sanctions on foreign energy companies investing in Iran’s oil and gas sector.
Mr. Hagel’s backers have claimed the senator only opposed unilateral U.S. sanctions. Yet Mr. Hagel’s statements and actions both in the Senate and beyond suggest otherwise.
In June 2001 and again in March 2002, he addressed conferences sponsored by the American-Iranian Council in Washington to emphasize the need for the United States to abandon sanctions and open trade with Tehran.
From 2006 to 2008, he opposed numerous bills and resolutions that would have stepped up pressure on the Iranian regime, including an October 2006 measure calling on the European Union to join the United States in placing the Iranian-backed Hezbollah terrorist group on its terrorism list.
In October 2008, he used a Senate privilege to single-handedly kill the Iran Counter-Proliferation Act —broad bipartisan legislation to extend U.S. sanctions and harmonize them with measures then in place worldwide as a result of United Nations Security Council resolutions — about as multilateral as you can get.
Rather than sanctions, Mr. Hagel has favored a policy of outreach, negotiation and accommodation with the Iranian government, regardless of its actions against the United States, its allies or its own people.
In May 2007 — less than one year after Hezbollah provoked a war in Lebanon at the instigation of Tehran — Mr. Hagel joined then-Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Sen. Arlen Specter in addressing a formal invitation to the speaker of the Islamic Republic’s parliament to meet with U.S. officials.
Later that year, Mr. Hagel sent a private letter to President George W. Bush, urging him to engage in “direct talks” with Iran. The goal of such talks was to dispel the notion “that the United States’ actual objective is regime change in Iran, not a change of Iran’s behavior,” Mr. Hagel wrote.
In September 2007, Mr. Hagel joined just 15 other senators in opposing a bill to add the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps to the State Department’s list of international terrorist organizations because of its involvement in murdering U.S. troops in Iraq.
Mr. Hagel’s supporters write, “In an interview on Nov. 9, 2007, Hagel told the Lincoln Journal Star that he feared the Bush administration might use the Senate resolution on Iran as cover for a military attack.” Yet as a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Mr. Hagel knew full well that the soon-to-be released National Intelligence Estimate on Iran would impose an insurmountable roadblock on any such plans, if they did indeed exist.
Congress has been instrumental in helping steer the Obama administration toward policies to increase pressure on the Islamic regime in Tehran, while expanding on work done by the two previous administrations to build an international coalition to slow down the emergence of a nuclear-armed Iranian power.
Chuck Hagel actively opposed these policies of confronting the Islamic Republic when he was in the U.S. Senate, and has continued to do so since then.
As Tehran’s best friend in Washington, he is exactly the wrong person to be Mr. Obama’s man at the Pentagon.
Kenneth Timmerman is the founder and president of the Foundation for Democracy in Iran (iran.org), and the author of “Countdown to Crisis: the Coming Nuclear Showdown with Iran” (Crown Forum, 2005).