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Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Chuck Hagel Should Not Be Confirmed, But Probably Will Be


Regular readers of this site know the various objections that have been raised regarding Senator Chuck Hagel's nomination to replace Leon Panetta as Secretary of Defense but thanks in a big part to overt and de facto support from Jewish organizations it is clear that in the end he will be confirmed, joining John Kerry as a two-man anti-Israel front in the Obama administration.

It is not just Hagel’s anti-Israel stances which throw his nomination, but what seemed to be the over-all incompetence exhibited in his Senate hearings last week. Even Hagel’s biggest detractors did not expect the performance he gave.   It wasn't simply that he said things that people disagreed with, or got caught with some sort of scandal, Chuck Hagel looked totally unprepared and out-classed.

None of the questions should have been a surprise, the guy knew what he would face...his own statements and record, many of them identified in previous columns, Chuck Hagel had weeks to figure out responses spins etc. but OH MY he didn't even understand what containment means.

Things started out with his “old friend” John McCain. Old friend is in quotations because the Arizona Senator is still angry Hagel didn’t support his run for president in 2008.  McCain was out for blood but showed a justified angry streak when Hagel tried to tap dance around a question his statement that the Iraq surge was the worst foreign policy disaster since Vietnam.

   “ I stand by 'em because I made 'em’,” Hagel replied. “I would defer to the judgment of history.”

As Hagel offered to “explain” his remarks, McCain cut him off.

 “I want to know whether you were right or wrong. That’s a direct question, I expect a direct answer.”

 “The surge assisted in the objective,” Hagel said. “But if we review the record a little bit—"

  “Will you please answer the question?” McCain jumped in. “Were you correct, or incorrect, when you said that the surge would be the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam? Were you correct or incorrect? Yes or no?

    “Were you right or wrong? That’s a pretty straightforward question,” McCain said.

    “I’m not going to give you a yes or no answer,” Hagel said. “If you would like me to explain why—”

    “No, I actually would like an answer, yes or no,” McCain said, cutting him off.

    “I’ll defer that judgment to history,” Hagel repeated. But he added that his Vietnam comments referred to “the overall war of choice, going into Iraq” and called the March 2003 invasion “the most fundamentally bad, dangerous decision since Vietnam.”

    “I think history has already made a judgment about the surge, sir, and you’re on the wrong side of it,” McCain said.

When being questioned on Iran he said questioning the Obama administration supports “containment” (allowing Iran to get the bomb as opposed to prevention). Then what had to be less than five minutes later he walked it back:

“I was just handed a note that I misspoke that I said I supported the president’s position on containment. If I said that I meant to say that we don’t have a position on containment,”

Even that was wrong, the administration does have a public position on contentment—they are against it.

In the progressive National Journal Michael Hirsh called The Containment Exchange, “Perhaps One Of The Worst Moments In A Fairly Bad Day For Hagel.”

“Perhaps one of the worst moments in a fairly bad day for Hagel came when even one of his apparent supporters, the committee chairman, Carl Levin, D-Mich., was forced to restate his position for him after Hagel twice misspoke about a critical issue: whether the Obama administration would accept mere ‘containment’ of Iran’s nuclear program, rather than prevention of it.”

Later he called the Iranian government (which stole the last election) and “elected legitimate government.” And when asked about it by NY Senator Gillibrand retracted that statement:

“What I meant to say–should have said–it’s recognizable,” Hagel said. “It’s been recognized, is recognized at the United Nations. Most of our allies have embassies there. That’s what I should have said, and…thank you.”

RECOGNIZED? As in "Hey aren't You Mahmoud Ahmadinejad?"

Lindsey Graham took him to the woodshed.  The South Carolina senator hammered Hagel on his  “Jewish lobby’s” comment. He asked the former senator if he could “name one person intimidated” by the Israeli lobby. Hagel couldn’t. “I didn’t have in mind a single person,” he said. Then Graham asked Hagel if he could name “something that was dumb” that the Israeli lobby had forced U.S. legislators to do, and Hagel said he didn't know that either.

The absolutely worst moment for Hagel came when questioned by freshman Senator Ted Cruz, Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas) destroyed Hagel over his 2009 interview with Al Jazeera where he agreed with a description of the United States as the “world’s bully," and one that called for Israel to be cited for War Crimes.

CNN's Dana Bash later reported that senators were in disbelief about how bad Hagel was.

Just before the second round of questions Hagel made a statement that launched a million face-palms

A number of questions were asked of me today about specific programs, submarine programs, different areas of technology and acquisitions, and our superior technology. I’ve said I do not 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. But at the same time, I would never think that this, as I said earlier, is about me or I will be running anything. I will be the leader. I’ll be responsible. I will be accountable, but I’ve got to rely on the right teams, the right people to bring those people together. And again, it’s accountability and responsibility. I would stop there, if that gives you some sense of how I would intend to do this business.” 

In other words, I don’t know stuff but I won’t be running stuff either.

Despite all the objections and beltway whispers about Hagel’s poor performance, there is very little to prevent his approval by the Senate.  After all despite his call for Israel to be tried for war crimes, despite his years of calling for the US to do nothing about Iranian nukes (he even objected to sanctions), Chuck Schumer has endorsed him publically and via its silence even AIPAC has endorsed him.

It is true that AIPAC has never taken a position on a presidential nomination, however Senators interpreted AIPAC’s silence as tacit support. As Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) said during a debate on MSNBC last Friday: “You and I both know that if Chuck Hagel presented a threat to Israel, AIPAC would be swarming over the Hill.” In politics, perception is reality. AIPAC’s silence was a nod of agreement.

The endorsement of Chuck Schumer despite his weak hearings and anti-Israel record was a signal to other Senators that Hagel was Kosher. It should also be a signal to NY voters that Schumer puts his political standing in the Democratic Party before everything.

Remember that President Obama told Russian President Mevedev that he would have more flexibility on policy during a second term.  Obama’s choice of Hagel is evidence of what that flexibility means in terms of his policy toward Israel, terrorism, and Iranian nukes. Sadly AIPAC and NY Senator Schumer are allowing him to get away with it.

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