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March 04, 2021

ICYMI: SASC Ranking Member Inhofe Criticizes Top DOD Nominee for 'Hyper-Partisan' Policy Positions

U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), today delivered opening remarks at a SASC hearing to consider Dr. Colin Kahl, President Joe Biden’s nominee to serve as Under Secretary of Defense for Policy — the number-three civilian position at the Pentagon. 

In his remarks, Sen. Inhofe expressed concerns that Dr. Kahl’s public, “hyper-partisan” policy stances are “inappropriate” for the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy position, and asked him to address where he currently stands on his previous “untrue” policy positions, including on the Iran deal and moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

As Prepared for Delivery:

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Dr. Kahl, I want to begin by thanking you for your willingness to serve.

You have been nominated for one of the most senior positions at the Pentagon. And you previously served in senior levels of the Obama Administration.

To be clear up front, from a policy perspective, I don’t think there is much we are going to agree on, as we discussed on the phone last week.

Now, in regards to our phone discussion, apparently someone who was listening went to the press and claimed that you “said all the right things” and “may have flipped Inhofe and his concerns.”

First, I think I was pretty clear that we had significant disagreements, so I’m not sure how you got that impression. And second, most importantly, I’m disappointed that a slanted view of our conversation was shared with the press. On our call, I told you that I would have a hard time supporting your nomination because of your previous policy positions, unless you’ve learned from some of the mistakes you’ve made. 

But I also told you that I can work with people with whom I disagree, and still be friends.

I understand that my committee staff has gotten assurances that this leak didn’t come from you, but the fact of the matter is that it didn’t come from me or my staff.

Hopefully you can touch on this issue at some point during today’s testimony. Even if we disagree on policy issues, we have to have some trust that we can have frank conversations for this to work.

So now I want to discuss some of the areas where you and I have disagreed.

Specifically, you had previously been against moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. Yet my recent amendment to the reconciliation bill, which ensures that the embassy will remain in Jerusalem, passed by a vote of 97-3, and the Biden administration has already confirmed it will remain there as well.

You have also been a vocal supporter of the Obama administration’s Iran nuclear deal, which gave Iran over $100 billion in sanctions relief – part of which Iran used to fund terrorist groups, the very groups that rocketed American forces in Iraq this week.

Now, as I’ve said, my colleagues and I are used to disagreeing with senior officials over various policy matters. That’s not new.

We had a very good hearing on Tuesday about global security challenges and strategy. At this hearing, H.R. McMaster said something about our foreign policy that I think is important. He said: “We need to adopt a nonpartisan, long-term approach to foreign policy focused on competitions important to our nation’s security, prosperity, and influence in the world.”

What concerns me here is that hyper-partisanship - especially in regards to our national security - is inappropriate, for the position of Under Secretary of Defense for Policy.

We’ve seen this before, even with the previous Administration, when this Committee rejected a nominee, in part, due to his prior statements and hyper-partisanship.

The position of Under Secretary of Defense for Policy requires a leader with judicious temperament and sound judgment. National security is too important for partisan politics.

Unfortunately, in the past, in many cases, your public policy positions have been couched in partisan politics rather than fact-based analysis. I’ll give you just a few examples because I expect my colleagues will have other examples: You downplayed the threat of Russia when Mitt Romney highlighted it during the 2012 election, but then alleged numerous conspiracy theories regarding President Trump’s ties to Russia following the 2016 election. You appeared to promote the fabricated Steele dossier, which contains ludicrous and unsubstantiated accusations against President Trump.

I realize you weren’t in public service when you made these comments.  And maybe at the time you thought you would never be sitting in front of us as you are today. 

My point is this: we know that there is a new Administration and that we will have policy disagreements that we will all try to work through.

But how will you rectify the fact that many Americans, including those who work at the Department of Defense, know you only through your very partisan comments?

How can we be confident that you will be a model of nonpartisan policy analysis – which is what the job requires – if you are confirmed?

Finally, just to hit on some of your previous policy predictions that have proven untrue: You said that ending the Iran deal might lead to war. That didn’t happen. You said the Soleimani strike would force the U.S. out of Iraq. That didn’t happen. You wrote that it would be “difficult” to prevent a “massive war” on the Korean peninsula in 2018. That didn’t happen. You said that moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem would harm relations with Arab states. In fact, Arab-Israeli relations have never been better.

So here’s what I hope you will address during this hearing: What prior assumptions have you reconsidered? Where do you stand on these matters now, and how will you comport yourself in the position of Under Secretary of Defense for Policy if confirmed? How can you reassure this committee that your hyper-partisan advocacy will not drive Pentagon decisions?

We have much to discuss. I thank you again for your willingness to serve, and look forward to hearing your thoughts. 

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

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