The Senate battle over Chuck Hagel’s nomination for Secretary of Defense last Thursday was disappointing and arguably unfair to Hagel. Republicans made it their priority to tear into Hagel by asking leading — and misleading — questions. Democrats were also hesitant to refocus the discussion on constructive issues. Hagel clearly exercised caution before answering any question, and while many in the mainstream news media perceived this caution as evidence of intellectual inferiority and cowardice, a case can be made for the opposite — his reservation is warranted given the complicated dynamics of the current geopolitical world. These nuances often require more complex explanations that take into account a historical perspective.
Sen. John McCain grilled Hagel on his opposition to the surge strategy in Iraq in 2007. Rather than looking into Hagel’s reasoning behind the decision, McCain was more interested in entrapping his old friend in a series of leading questions. McCain, arguably the staunchest advocate of the surge strategy in the Senate, engaged in a battle of the egos, attempting to get Hagel to somehow concede that the strategy was successful. Hagel refused to give a yes or no answer and claimed that McCain was oversimplifying the issue.
Questioning by Sen. Lindsey Graham was equally severe, unsurprising given that McCain was seen conferring with Graham during a break following McCain’s interrogation. Graham, an experienced courtroom attorney, put Hagel on trial, cutting off nearly all of the nominee’s responses with his own trite commentary on Hagel’s perceived shortcomings. He shamed the candidate on his comments about a “Jewish lobby” intimidating Congress, ironically underscoring America’s constant, irrational refusal to criticize Israel. Graham brazenly continued the political spectacle McCain started, quite noticeably demonstrating an aversion to rational discourse and an intent to limit Hagel’s actual speaking time.
Rather than focusing their questions on the deep-seated challenges that face the Department of Defense, such as budget cuts, the committee members ate up hours challenging Hagel on largely non-substantive statements that he made in the past. The committee irresponsibly handled Hagel’s confirmation hearing, addressing Israel over 160 times but giving Afghanistan a mere 20 mentions. While Hagel’s nomination is still likely to be secured, his farcical confirmation hearing exemplifies a disturbing facet of American political discourse.
A version of this article appeared in the Feb. 4 print edition. Email the WSN Editorial board at [email protected]