Decorated Vietnam War veteran and two-term United States Senator Chuck Hagel spent 8 hours on the witness chair, trying to convince 26 members of the Senate Armed Services Committee that his love for Israel was sufficient to warrant confirmation as Secretary of Defense. Everything else was of secondary importance for the Committee.
I watched the hearing gavel to gavel … from 9:30am to about 6:00pm. The slobbering and fawning over Israel was embarrassing. Israel was mentioned constantly, and usually referred to as, "our most important ally." The names and security needs of the 27 countries who have provided troops to fight and die alongside ours in Afghanistan were not mentioned or considered.
No Committee member was so uncool as to mention that Israel did not assist us in either Iraq or Afghanistan. I guess the lesson is that once you achieve "most important ally" status, you don't need to actually do anything … just cash the checks. Good work if you can get it.
When not questioning whether Chuck Hagel loved Israel enough, Republican Senators went to considerable length to probe whether Hagel would be willing to demonstrate that love by killing Iranians. Hagel repeated the Obama position that all options involving Iran and the nuclear problem are on the table.
Hagel wisely did not get into the weeds on whether it was a good idea to be talking to Iran … that's the President's call, and negotiations would be a State Department matter. Left unsaid was the little known fact that, according to former Secretary of State James Baker, Iran was very helpful to the United States at the beginning of the war with Afghanistan, right after 9/11.
The Israel-centric nature of the hearing reached almost comic proportions when it took over seven hours before somebody mentioned China. Amazing.
A confirmation hearing can be high drama. It's personal. Just like in Alan Drury's Advice and Consent, the nominee either gets the big job with the limousine, motorcade and security detail, or he walks out the door, rejected and soon to be forgotten. The Hagel hearing was not high drama. The nominee was cautious and defensive, which is not his natural style.
The Democratic Senators were supportive but lacked passion. The worst of the Republicans (Senators Graham, McCain, and Cruz) played small ball gotcha trying to catch Hagel in some slip-up in the mandatory word formula required to show support for Israel.
Republican Senator Ted Cruz demonstrated that he is a particularly foul piece of work. Smart enough, but sleazy in a creepy sort of way. After watching him for a while, I felt like I needed to take a bath. Lindsey Graham looked like he was auditioning for a job with (or a check from) Sheldon Adelson. As usual, John McCain was angry.
On the Democratic side, there were a couple of new and refreshing faces. Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who twice said that he wished he had had the "honor" of serving with Hagel in the Senate, and also indicated that he felt he should apologize to Hagel for the petty ugliness of the Graham-McCain-Cruz line of questioning.
The best line of the day came from new Senator Angus King of Maine … "My advice is to hire lots of smart people, and take credit for what they do."
The odds still favor Hagel winning a close confirmation vote, so he can get a chance to follow Angus King's advice.
This is a special report. I will post again on Wednesday, March 6, 2013 (or before, if the news flow dictates) and, for the time being, I will post on the first Wednesday of each month.
Comments are welcome at tomc[at]wednesdayswars[dot]com. Name and town if you wish to opine. Comments will be addressed in subsequent posts.