The first hours of Chuck Hagel’s Senate confirmation hearing did little to gladden the hearts of his supporters. While the strict partisan divide over the nomination should ensure that he would get the support of a majority of senators, his bumbling performance undermined any notion that the president’s choice to lead the Pentagon was winning over any of his critics. More to the point, his effort to portray his recent recantations of his long-held skepticism about attempts to stop Iran from going nuclear, his criticisms of Israel, and his belief in engagement with Hamas and Hezbollah as consistent with his record was a flop. Though he had obviously been prepped to state his support for Israel and President Obama’s policies on Iran over and over again—a task made easier by Democratic senators asking him to merely reaffirm and regurgitate those talking points—he still managed to stumble over some issues he hoped to put to rest
Let’s hope not, because Chuck Hagel has not come across today as a particularly smart man. Even some leftists have been tweeting their negative impressions of Hagel. As I have suggested, he’s more cracker barrel philsopher than serious policy analysis.
Hagel did prove, however, that he’s smart enough to know when to lie. He disavowed past position after past position. Sen. Vitter was particularly effective in pointing this out late in the day. It is impossible to believe that Hagel has had this many changes of heart on matters of such primary importance to the security of the world and the nation. And if he has, then he’s certainly not clear-thinking enough to be Secretary of Defense.
Hagel’s testimony is an insult to the intelligence of the Senate and the American people. When he is confirmed, as I assume he will be (probably on a laregly party line vote), the Pentagon will be under the control of less than mediocre thinker and a less than honest man.
I had thought that Lindsey Graham would be the most effective questioner of Chuck Hagel at today’s hearing, and Graham did his usual fine job of “cross-examination.” But for my money, Ted Cruz topped Graham and everyone else with questions that exposed not just Hagel’s contempt for Israel, but his contempt for the United States. You can view the tape of Cruz’s devastating round with Hagel here.
First, Cruz played excerpts from a tape of Hagel’s 2009 appearance on al Jazeera, in which a caller suggested that Israel had committed war crimes. In responding to the question, Hagel did not dispute the caller’s statement. Cruz also pointed to statement by Hagel that Israel had engaged in “the sickening slaughter” of Hezbollah, which sounds a bit like war crimes.
Taken together, these pieces of information show that Hagel regards Israel as a criminal state, or at least is comfortable with that characterization. Hagel tried, with the same lameness he displayed most of the day, to talk away around this conclusion. He stated that both sides — Israelis and Hezbollah — had slaughtered each other. Perhaps Hagel will produce a tape in which he accused the Palestinians of engaging in a “sickening slaughter” of Israelis. Perhaps he will produce a tape (from the period before he was in the running for a cabinet job under President Obama) in which he took exception to the claim that Israel has committed war crimes. Perhaps, but don’t hold your breath.
Next, Cruz played an excerpt from the same interview in which the al Jazeera host read a reader e-mail claiming that the United States has served as the world’s bully. This time Hagel not only failed to take exception and stick up for his country, he said on al Jazeera he found some merit in the claim, calling it “a good observation” (the Washington Post report linked to above fails to report this fact).
Pressed by Cruz, Hagel tried to squirm his way out of this bit of anti-Americanism by misrepresenting both the email and his response. But Cruz brought him back to the text, which makes it quite clear that Hagel endorsed the view that America is the world’s bully.
Chairman Levin saw the problem these excerpts pose for Hagel, and suggested that Cruz should have presented the entire interview transcript, not just video excerpts. Cruz agreed to transcribe the interview clips in their entirety and post them on his Senate webpage.
If, as is likely, Hagel is confirmed, President Obama will have in place a Secretary of State who (albeit decades ago) called the U.S. military “the Army of Genghis Khan” and a Secretary of Defense who (a few short years ago) found merit in the view that the U.S. is the world’s bully.
This state of affairs is altogether fitting for a president who, himself, holds America in contempt. At least Hagel and Kerry can point to their experiences in Vietnam as the source of their disillusionment with America. What can Obama point to, his days in Rev. Wright’s church?
JOHN adds: Here are the al-Jazeera clips that Sen. Cruz played today:
Already, after just a month in office, it seems clear that two new superstars have emerged in the Republican Party and the conservative movement: Tom Cotton in the House, and Ted Cruz in the Senate.
Now it’s Lindsey Graham time. Are will still at war, Graham wants to know. After some stammering, Hagel says “Yes.”
Graham’s next question is “name one person in Congress who has been intimidated by the Jewish lobby.” Hagel can’t do it (or won’t).
Now Graham wants Hagel to name one dumb thing Congress has done in response to pressure from the Israeli lobby. Hagel can’t do it (or, actually, won’t).
Graham wants to know why Hagel was one of 12 Senators who didn’t sign a letter affirming Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. Hagel says that Senators shouldn’t sign these kinds of letters — it infringes on the president’s prerogative. But then, why did Hagel sign a letter denouncing the treatment of Jews by the Russians? Hagel can’t answer, at least not coherently.
Graham asks if Hagel would vote today against designating the IRG a terrorist organiztion. Hagel hems and haws. Then he says he would, at least, reconsider the matter, since “times change.”
Now Graham is asking about a letter Hagel refused to sign denouncing the intifada. He wants to know if Graham will admit that not signing this letter was a mistake. Hagel says he will look at the letter and answer later.
It be a letter that Hagel clearly should have signed because liberal Sen. Blumenthal, who follows Graham in the questioning, tells Hagel he hopes Hagel will now say he should have signed it.
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I’ve had all the fun I can stand with this hearing for now. Perhaps I’ll resume my coverage at some point in the second round of questioning.
From what I’ve seen so far today, it looks like Hagel will win more than 50 votes from the Democrats, and quite possibly all 55 Democratic votes. As for Republicans, I don’t believe he’s done well enough today to win many over. He succeeded in enraging John McCain (not the most difficult thing to do) and Lindsey Graham was upset with Hagel from the get-go. Of those Republicans who have questioned Hagel so far, it seems to me that he has “charmed” nary a one.