Hagel Is Right

He Needs To Know More

Posted: February 5, 2013

Beauty, as well we know, is in the eye of the beholder. The same, apparently, can be said for performances at confirmation hearings.

From The Associated Press report on former Sen. Chuck Hagel’s appearance before old friends and political acquaintances Thursday, one may have been led to believe he deported himself swimmingly. He was “unflustered,” the writers said, and so much so that his approval as the nation’s next defense secretary, seems imminent.

We’re not so sure — about his impending confirmation, that is. Granted, for all the tumult and shouting in the hearing room, some senators — Lindsey Graham and John McCain, perhaps? — may still turn around and give
Mr. Hagel a thumbs-up.

Of this we are certain: Clint Eastwood’s empty chair at the Republican convention — remember that? — serves as a fine metaphor for Mr. Hagel’s shoddy performance under withering rhetorical fire.

In Mr. Hagel’s case, of course, the “chair” did speak. It may have served him better had it not. For starters, there was an exchange with Mr. Graham, during which the South Carolinian asked Mr. Hagel which senators had been “intimidated” by the “Jewish lobby” and what “dumb things” had been done as a result of this “pressure.” Despite making such claims in print, Mr. Hagel could recall no specific instances or examples.

OK, better men than Chuck Hagel have faltered in front of cameras or beneath the spell of a print reporter’s recording device. “Dumb” mistakes have been made in such venues.

But what of the man’s judgment, knowledge, and pertinent experience? His surpassing deficits in such commodities were on full display. Or, to be charitable, maybe these hearings did not sufficiently highlight whatever estimable traits and abilities President Obama believes Mr. Hagel will bring to the job.

In this vein, consider first his languid response to a testy Mr. McCain, a fellow Vietnam vet with whom he has fallen out, about the “surge” in Afghanistan, which he, as a senator, opposed in 2007. Mr. McCain pressed Mr. Hagel on whether he still believed his “assessment” was “correct.” To which he replied: “I would defer to the judgment of history to sort that out.” Definitely not the answer Mr. McCain had in mind.

On two other occasions, Mr. Hagel had to walk back incorrect statements, first on “containment” of a nuclear Iran (he assumed Mr. Obama said “containment” remains a possibility; the president has disavowed that option), and then on whether Iran’s rulers are “legitimate ... elected” leaders.

Suffice it to say, he had to know these questions were coming. Whither preparation?

Near the end of his grilling, Mr. Hagel offered, perhaps, his truest sentiments of the day: “A number of questions were asked of me today about specific programs ... And I’ve said, I don’t know enough about it. I don’t. There are a lot of things I don’t know about. If confirmed, I intend to know a lot more than I do. I will have to.”

That much is obvious.

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