US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel 370.
(photo credit: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)
WASHINGTON – Chuck Hagel was sworn in as US secretary of defense on Wednesday,
following an acrimonious confirmation battle that saw historic numbers of
senators vote against his appointment.
The US Senate voted 58-41 Tuesday
to approve Hagel, a former Republican senator from Nebraska, after enough
members of the party – who had for weeks blocked his confirmation – agreed to
allow him to face a straight majority vote. His approval was all but assured at
that point, since more than half of senators are Democrat.
comes into office battered by the confirmation process and still at odds with
many senators – who took issues with his prior stances on Iran, Israel and
terrorism, many of which he has since disavowed – whom he will now have to face
on tough issues related to Pentagon spending and priorities.
acknowledged the challenges he will encounter at home and that America faces
abroad, and laid out some of his views during his installation Wednesday at the
“We can’t dictate to the world,” he said. “But we must engage
the world. We must lead with our allies.”
He continued, “No nation, as
great as America is, can do any of this alone.”
Hagel stressed the
importance of American caution in how it handles crises around the
“We have great power and how we apply our power is particularly
important,” he said. “That engagement in the world should be done wisely. And
the resources that we employ on behalf of our country and our allies should
always be applied wisely.”
He was addressing US Defense Department
employees after his swearing-in ceremony – a staff which is being threatened
with furloughs and other cost-cutting measures as massive budget cuts known as
sequestration are scheduled to start being implemented on Friday. The cuts could
be averted by a last-minute Congressional deal, but that currently seems very
unlikely to be reached.
“We need to deal with this reality,” he said
plainly of the sequester hurdle on Wednesday.
Following US President
Barack Obama’s selection of Hagel, the former senator came under fire from
several of his erstwhile party colleagues for controversial views on roiling
issues such as Iran, including his previous objections to unilateral sanctions
and suggestion that military force not be used.
Though Hagel walked back
some of these positions in meetings with senators and during his confirmation
hearing last month – as well as apologized for using the term “Jewish lobby” –
some Republicans still took to the Senate floor ahead of Tuesday’s vote to
restate their objections and ultimately voted against him.
senators and Hagel have begun to speak of working together now to weather the
looming fiscal crunch, but it remains to be seen what the lingering affect of
his unusually divisive confirmation process will be.Reuters contributed
to this report.