And did he regret calling pro-Israel groups in America an intimidating force that drives US officials “to do dumb things”?
On all these questions, Hagel endeavored to reassure critics of his tough national-security bona fides, while remaining, for the most part, characteristically unapologetic about most of his past remarks.
He also stressed that his decisions as secretary of Defense, should he be confirmed, would be driven by how they affect troops and their families.
“The people in Washington make the policy,” Hagel wrote in his memoir, “but it’s the little guys who come back in the body bags.”
Yet Senator Levin also sought to distance himself a bit from some of Hagel’s positions, in particular his willingness to conduct “direct, unconditional, and comprehensive talks” with Iran on some issues that, Levin said, “I believe most of us would view as nonnegotiable.”
Throughout the proceedings, Hagel offered a handful of clarifications about his more controversial positions.
He emphasized, for starters, his support for Israel, after being widely criticized – and apologizing – for saying that the “Jewish lobby” intimidates many Washington politicos.
“I’ve always said I’m a supporter of Israel,” he told lawmakers. “In some cases, I’ve said I’m a strong supporter of Israel.”