Last week, former Senator Chuck Hagel appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee for his confirmation hearing to be the nation’s new Defense Secretary. It was a debacle of epic proportions.
When he served in the Senate, Hagel had a reputation for being a difficult and prickly personality with no close allies or friends in the chamber. So when he was blowing it last week, Hagel could draw upon no reservoir of goodwill. Nobody really jumped to his defense or tried to protect him. Even the Democrats allowed him to twist in the wind.
Hagel has never been known to be a defense intellectual or someone who has thought through national security doctrines. In the past, he has taken controversial and often wrong positions: he has referred to members of Congress as being “intimidated” by the “Jewish lobby;” he has taken repeated positions against our ally Israel; he has opposed sanctions on Iran; he voted for the war in Iraq and then refused to support the surge, even after it proved successful; he supports deep and crippling cuts in our defense budget (which is the primary reason Obama chose him); and he’s on the record agreeing with the statement that the U.S. is “the world’s bully.”
During his appearance last week, Hagel was asked about all of these things and more, and he struggled to answer each question. Senators on both sides were “shocked” to see how “ill-prepared” he was. He hemmed. He hawed. He stumbled. He had to rely on notes passed to him by his staff to correct what he had just said.
More importantly, he could not answer fundamental questions about our foreign and national security policy. He couldn’t distinguish between a “containment” policy vis-a-vis an Iran with nuclear weapons and a “preventive” policy that states will will prevent Tehran from ever acquiring them. He couldn’t or wouldn’t answer Senator McCain’s question about whether he was wrong to oppose the Iraq surge. He couldn’t articulate the dangers of the rise of the Islamists across the Middle East.
He couldn’t even articulate a basic, coherent philosophy as to how he views the world and America’s place in it.
The White House was even forced to admit that it was “a long day.” Humiliating and embarrassing all around. But more importantly, very dangerous for the country.
Hagel’s nomination should be defeated by honest members of both parties who should clearly see that he is not up to this job, not now, not ever.
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