The Cable

Chuck Hagel does not like sanctions

Former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel, rumored to be in contention for the job of defense secretary, has a long record of opposing sanctions on countries including Iran, North Korea, Syria, Libya, and Cuba.

Hagel, who serves as co-chair of President Barack Obama's intelligence advisory board, throughout his career has publicly supported the idea of engaging with rogue regimes and focusing on diplomacy before punitive measures. While in Congress, he voted against several sanctions measures and argued vociferously against their effectiveness.

"Engagement is not appeasement. Diplomacy is not appeasement. Great nations engage. Powerful nations must be the adults in world affairs. Anything less will result in disastrous, useless, preventable global conflict," Hagel said in a Brookings Institution speech in 2008.

In 2008, Hagel was blamed for blocking an Iran sanctions bill that Senate Democrats supported. That same year, he gave a speech calling for the opening of a U.S. diplomatic post in Tehran. As early as 2001, Hagel said that sanctions on Iran and Libya were ineffective. He was one of only two senators that year to vote against renewal of the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act, along with Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN).

In his 2008 book, America: Our Next Chapter, Hagel wrote, "America's refusal to recognize Iran's status as a legitimate power does not decrease Iran's influence, but rather increases it."

That same year, Hagel praised the George W. Bush administration's deal with North Korea, which included lifting some sanctions on Pyongyang and removing North Korea from the State Department's list of states that sponsor terrorism in exchange for greater transparency into North Korea's nuclear program. North Korea later reneged on its side of that bargain.

"The last thing we want to do or should do in my opinion is try to isolate North Korea," Hagel said in 2003. "They are very dangerous, they're unpredictable, and they have a past behavior pattern that's a bit erratic. That is not good news for any of us. So I think we keep the emotions down and keep working the channels."

On Syria, Hagel was a longtime supporter of engagement with the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and his father before him, Hafez al-Assad. After meeting with Assad the elder in 1998, Hagel said, "Peace comes through dealing with people. Peace doesn't come at the end of a bayonet or the end of a gun."

In 2008, Hagel co-authored a Wall Street Journal op-ed with prospective secretary of state nominee Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), entitled, "It's time to talk to Syria."

"Syria's leaders have always made cold calculations in the name of self-preservation, and history shows that intensive diplomacy can pay off," Hagel and Kerry wrote.

Hagel has long been a critic of the multi-decade U.S. embargo on Cuba. He has said the trade embargo on Cuba "isolates us, not Cuba," and voted several times to ease parts of it.

"On Cuba, I've said that we have an outdated, unrealistic, irrelevant policy," he said in 2008. "It's always been nonsensical to me about this argument, 'Well, it's a communist country, it's a communist regime.' What do people think Vietnam is? Or the People's Republic of China? Both those countries are WTO members. We trade with them. We have relations. Great powers engage...  Great powers are not afraid. Great powers trade."

That same year, Hagel signed onto a letter to Secretary State Condoleezza Rice urging her to alter U.S.-Cuba policy. In 2002, Hagel called then leader Fidel Castro a "toothless old dinosaur" and said he agreed with former U.S. president Jimmy Carter on Cuba.

"What Jimmy Carter's saying ... is exactly right: Our 40-year policy toward Cuba is senseless," Hagel said.

In 2000, Hagel fought against legislation that would have granted citizenship to Cuban refugee Elian Gonzales.

"Chuck Hagel, like many other great national security strategists including Bob Gates and Brent Scowcroft, thinks that unilateral sanctions fashioned by emotion rather than strategic interests make no sense," said Steve Clemons, editor at large for the Atlantic and a longtime Hagel supporter.

"In many of the cases that sanctions resolutions appeared in the Senate," Clemons said, "sanctions by the U.S., unaccompanied by global support, actually reduce America's leverage in seducing or compelling a problematic nation from taking a different course."

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