The Senate’s “advice and consent” role doesn’t require it to rubber-stamp a presidential appointee for secretary of defense who senators believe would weaken America in this increasingly dangerous world.
Notwithstanding former Sen. Chuck Hagel’s diminished view of the post — “I won’t be in a policymaking position” — the secretary of defense is an exceedingly important position and must be filled with someone who understands the complexity and gravity of the threats we face.
In his testimony at his confirmation hearing, Hagel demonstrated a remarkable unwillingness to clarify his past statements, a stunning misapprehension of the identity, intentions and capabilities of our enemies, and a disturbing ignorance of the critical subject matter on which he would be advising the president. For example, he was unaware that the sequester cuts come out of the Budget Control Act.
As tentative and confused as Hagel appeared, it might seem unfair to describe him as arrogant. But how can anything but hubris explain Hagel’s defiant refusal either to stand by or to renounce his bizarre statement that the Iraq surge was our greatest foreign policy error since Vietnam?
Hagel surely has an opinion now on whether his statement was correct, and those charged with making a determination on his fitness for the position are entitled to know his opinion. These are not matters you take on trust; we’re talking about the national security of the United States, not some ambassadorship to the North Pole.
But Hagel’s past statements on Iraq and his refusal to own up to his errors pale in comparison with his alarming responses concerning President Obama’s policy on Iran. His bewilderment and flip-flopping would have been amusing but for the seriousness of the subject matter.
But it only got worse. When asked about Iran’s nuclear weapons efforts, Hagel said, “I support the president’s strong position on containment.” Notice the total lack of ambiguity in Hagel’s assertion. After being handed a note presumably informing him of his misstatement of the president’s policy, Hagel backed off slightly, saying, “We don’t have a position on containment.” Strike two — but Hagel still wasn’t getting it. Sen. Carl Levin had to carry him over the finish line, telling him, “Just to make sure your correction is clear, we do have a position on containment — which is that we do not favor containment.”
Are you getting this? Hagel essentially went from “Obama strongly favors containment” to “he doesn’t have a position at all on containment” to “he opposes containment.” Even the most forgiving reading of the transcript could not reasonably lead to the conclusion that Hagel had the slightest idea what the president’s policy is or should be on possibly the most important threat facing the United States and its allies today. This was astonishing.
But Hagel wasn’t done demonstrating his cluelessness about Iran. Under intense questioning, he wouldn’t concede that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps — one of the worst exporters of terrorism in the world and responsible for killing countless of Americans and supporting the Iraqi insurgency — is a terrorist entity.
How does one advise the president on terrorism when he apparently doesn’t understand what it is and who some of its greatest practitioners are? Then again, if confirmed, he will be advising a president whose administration rejects the term “war on terrorism” and characterized the Fort Hood massacre by a confirmed jihadi as “workplace violence” and whose ego and warped ideology compel him to insist that a very active al-Qaida has been virtually dismantled because he approved the kill order on Osama bin Laden — an action made possible only by interrogation techniques he strenuously opposed.
Then there are Hagel’s shameless reversals on such serious matters as sanctions against Iran — reversals he wouldn’t even acknowledge, much less retract — which cast doubt on his integrity. Sen. Roger Wicker pointed out, incredulously, that in a private conversation, Hagel confirmed a statement he’d made to an Omaha, Neb., paper that he opposed unilateral sanctions, yet Hagel took a “substantially and substantively different” position in a letter to Sen. Barbara Boxer just a week later.
Perhaps most objectionable is Hagel’s bigoted accusation that “the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people (in Congress).” When pressed, Hagel wouldn’t name any specific people he had in mind, nor did he come close to giving a satisfactory explanation for his disgraceful terminology — because there is none.
President Obama may very well succeed in securing confirmation for a defense secretary as ensconced in liberal appeasement as he is, but the Constitution does not require the Senate to approve a man who is ill-equipped to advise him on these issues and to serve as anything other than a Republican show puppet who will help Obama further dismantle our military and diminish our military readiness and national security.