Throughout his career, Chuck Hagel has sought to soften U.S. pressure on Syria, one of the leading sponsors of terrorism in the world and Iran’s only Arab ally, in the belief that engagement and diplomatic niceties would convince Syria to change its ways.
In 1998, Hagel appeared to mimic the talking points of Syria’s dictator. “Mr. Hagel met in Damascus in 1998 with the terror-sponsoring dictator, Hafez Al-Assad, and returned to tell a reporter about the meeting, ‘Peace comes through dealing with people. Peace doesn’t come at the end of a bayonet or the end of a gun.’”
In November 2003, Hagel failed to vote on the Syria Accountability Act. “Another indicator came on November 11, 2003, when the Senate, by a vote of 89 to 4, passed the Syria Accountability Act authorizing sanctions on Syria for its support of terrorism and its occupation of Lebanon. Mr. Hagel – along with Mr. Kerry – didn’t vote.”
In July 2006, after Hezbollah attacks sparked a war with Israel, Hagel called on the Bush administration to open direct talks with Hezbollah’s sponsors, Iran and Syria. “Ultimately the US will need to engage Iran and Syria with an agenda open to all areas of agreement and disagreement. For this dialogue to have any meaning or lasting relevance, it should encompass the full agenda of issues.”
In June 2008, Hagel sought to reduce the diplomatic and political isolation Syria earned through its sponsorship of terrorism and assassination, saying “We should take the initiative to re-engage Syria by returning the U.S. Ambassador to Damascus.”
In June 2008, Hagel published an op-ed arguing for the likelihood of a “diplomatic breakthrough” with Syria if the U.S. would only “come to the table again.” Hagel said “our policy of nonengagement has isolated us more than the Syrians” and that Syria’s longstanding alliance with Iran is merely a “marriage of convenience.”
In October 2009, Hagel claimed – as he has for years – that the Syrian regime wished to abandon Iran and terrorism and move toward the U.S. and Israel. “I believe there is a real possibility of a shift in Syria’s strategic thinking and policies. For its own self interests, not because they want to do a favor for the U.S. or Israel. If we can convince Damascus to pause and re-consider its positions and support regarding Iran, Hezballah, Hamas and radical Palestinian groups, we will have made progress for the entire Middle East, Israel, and the U.S. Syria wants to talk – at the highest levels – and everything is on the table.”