It’s fascinating, actually, to see a nominee of this importance do so poorly. Chuck Hagel, nominated for defense secretary, has gone from awful to atrocious today, having to deny the obvious meaning of words he previously authored (on Global Zero), correct himself repeatedly (no, he didn’t mean Iran’s government was “legitimate”) and find himself simply unable to explain himself. Forgetting about his views, he does not radiate the confidence nor project the intelligence the job demands. It is unclear whether he was not prepped properly, whether he refused to be coached or whether he simply isn’t bright. A long-time Capitol Hill Democrat astounded by the hearing tells me, “It is very clear from the testimony that Sen. Hagel will not be bringing the potato salad to the next Mensa picnic.”
Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) did an immense amount of danger, disclosing that Hagel would still oppose unilateral sanctions. (How then could he possibly be the defense secretary in this administration?). Moreover, in reading his own words from the Global Zero report, she forced him to squirm, insisting the words she read didn’t mean what they said.
Even more damaging was the brilliant — there is no other word for it — interrogation from Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) who challenged him to name one senator “intimidated” by the “Jewish lobby” and to name “one dumb thing” the United States did as a result of that intimidation. He couldn’t. Why did he say those things, then? The result of this exchange was to cast Hagel as a gadfly who speaks rashly.
Hagel is sinking his own nomination. Will any Democrats throw up their hands and refuse to pretend he is credible and competent? Maybe. But every single Republican – any fair person not under the thumb of the White House, really – has more than enough reason to oppose and block the nomination. Hagel has proven himself to be a remarkably ill-considered pick. If the Democrats won’t, Republican senators should save the president and the country from an unqualified and unsuited pick. Imagine if this man were sent to Tehran or Jerusalem or Russia on a critical visit? I shudder to think of it.