The criticism has surprised some of Hagel's strongest backers.
"This idea that's being propagated that he might be soft on adversaries. Chuck Hagel's not soft on anybody, particularly himself," said Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., a member of the Armed Services Committee, in a conference call with Hagel allies. "He drives hard. He's someone who searches for the right approach and the right policy."
Reed complained that Hagel had been pilloried by false attacks and revisionist theories about his career.
In the questionnaire, Hagel said that as long as nuclear weapons exist, the United States must have a "safe, secure and effective nuclear arsenal."
He insisted that he will implement the military's policy allowing gays to serve openly and move ahead on opening combat roles to women.
He expressed his opposition to the automatic, across-the-board budget cuts that will hit the Pentagon on March 1 if Congress fails to come up with an alternative. At the same time, he indicated that some reductions are inevitable.
"We will continue to need the best Army in the world. But the best Army does not mean the largest. We must have the Army be appropriately sized for the contingencies we deem likely, and it also must be trained and modernized," he said.
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