The Right Opinion

Hagel Testimony = Fail

By Rich Galen · Feb. 1, 2013

I subscribe to the general theory that a President – Republican or Democrat – should be able to have the people running his Departments, Commissions and Agencies that he wants.

Unless there is some overriding disqualifying reason to reject him or her, the Senate should abide by the terms of Article II, Section 2 that says the President “shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint … Officers of the United States.”

The nomination of Chuck Hagel to be Secretary of Defense is an excellent case in point.

I may not agree with Hagel on the 3 I’s – Iran, Iraq, and Israel – but we don’t generally allow Secretaries of Defense to make foreign policy. Nor, for that matter, do Secretaries of State make foreign policy.

The President makes foreign policy and that policy is carried out by State and Defense.

If you don’t believe me, ask Hillary Clinton.

Hagel, as a former Republican U.S. Senator from Nebraska and Chairman of the Armed Services Committee might be uniquely qualified to oversee the long-term re-ordering of our military forces in a time of withdrawal from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as the short term issues that attend the looming sequester.

A former infantryman in Vietnam with two Purple Hearts, Hagel should have been sailing through the confirmation process as easily as former Navel officer in Vietnam, John Kerry, sailed through his confirmation to be Secretary of State.

Hagel, to my knowledge never tossed his medals over the White House fence as Kerry infamously did.

Among other things, Hagel once said that Members of Congress were “intimidated” by what he called the “Jewish Lobby.” Hagel opposed the concept of the surge in Iraq that, no matter what you think about the totality of the adventure, certainly stabilized that country enough for the U.S. to get out.

As a member of the U.S. Senate Hagel voted against unilateral sanctions against Iran, and, according to the Associated Press, “co-authored [a study] last year that called for an 80 percent cut in U.S. nuclear weapons, and elimination of all nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missiles.”

Even with all that, my thinking, though shaken, remained on the side of giving the President the Cabinet Secretaries he wants.

Until yesterday.

Yesterday Chuck Hagel spent eight hours in a Senate Office building essentially denying everything he has written and/or said since before he campaigned with Barack Obama in 2008.

The Twitterverse was bubbling with hallway comments of Republican and Democratic Senators who were “shocked” at how badly he was performing.

CNN’s Dana Bash filed a piece saying: “One senator who is undecided but was not at the Armed Services Committee hearing says it is ‘all the talk – I mean all the talk.’ Fellow senators are ‘shocked’ by how ill prepared Hagel seemed for basic questions about controversial comments he has made, this senator said.”

It is possible that Hagel was lulled into a false sense of comfort testifying before many of his old Senate buddies on the heels of the love-in that greeted Kerry a week earlier.

It is no secret that Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) doesn’t like Hagel, and I would be very surprised if, in his rehearsals for yesterday’s appearance, the staffer playing Sen. McCain didn’t bombard Hagel in the same rude tone the real McCain used yesterday.

But that wasn’t enough. Hagel didn’t have very good answers to what appear to be reversals in position on issue after issue.

At one point he said he supports the concept of “containment” when it comes to Iran getting nuclear weapons.

That is most assuredly not the Administration’s position on Iran’s nukes. The position is denying Iran nuclear weapons, not containing them once Iran has them.

According to numerous sources a staffer passed Hagel a note after which, having read it, Hagel said: “I misspoke and said I supported the president’s position on containment. If I said that, I meant to say we don’t have a position on containment.”

But, as the Chairman of the Committee, Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), pointed out, “We do have a position on containment, and that is we do not favor containment. I just wanted to clarify the clarify.”

The current Senate split is 55 Ds and 45 Rs so Hagel will probably be approved on a straight up-or-down vote.

Sara Murray and Julian E. Barnes wrote in the Wall Street Journal: “An outright filibuster of a cabinet nominee would be unprecedented. Senate records reflect no instance of a filibuster being used to block a cabinet nominee, although nine have been defeated outright, without filibusters, and another 12 were withdrawn, sometimes in the face of a filibuster threat.”

With all that, I hope President Obama withdraws the Hagel nomination for Secretary of Defense. If yesterday was any test, he is simply not up to the job.

On the Secret Decoder Ring page today: Links to Politico, the Wall Street Journal, and Dana Bash’s piece.

Also a Mullfoto showing a lot of unused bicycles in downtown DC.

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