The U.S. secretary of defense is a big job, with wide purview over foreign policy, defense policy, the lives of thousands of enlisted men and women, and the most powerful military in the world. Sen. Chuck Hagel has not been the least controversial nominee, so his Senate confirmation hearing on Thursday was expected to be interesting. And it was certainly long, lasting most of the day.
What, exactly, did Hagel and his interlocutors discuss? What does the U.S. Senate talk about when it talks about the Pentagon? The Washington Post's Rajiv Chandrasekaran tweeted some of the most-used words in the hearing. Israel and Iran were cited the most by far, no surprise given the political controversy around some of Hagel's past comments on those two countries. Still, it's an interesting reminder of the way that Israel and Iran can dominate the domestic political discussion of U.S. foreign policy. President Obama might want to pivot to Asia, but the Senate sure doesn't seem as interested.
The senate also seems to have largely forgotten its fury over the September 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic building in Benghazi, Libya. The incident did not come up at all, except as a programming note: Senator Carl Levin announced there would be more hearings on it next week. The other two Libya references were unrelated.
Here are some more word counts from the hearing. They include partial references; "Afghan forces" counts under "Afghanistan," for example:
Most cited countries:
Vietnam (seems like old times): 41
North Korea: 11
Libya/Benghazi (remember that?): 3
Most cited threats:
Al-Qaeda (Al who?): 2
Taliban (Tali-what?): 0
Most cited people:
President Obama: 27
Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta: 22
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: 11
Former Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates: 9
George W. Bush: 3
Afghan President Hamid Karzai: 0
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei: Amazingly, despite all the interest in these two countries, their actual leaders were not referenced even once.
Mental health/suicide: 25
Openly gay/same-sex relationships/don't ask, don't tell: 8
Sexual assault: 3
Drones: Just kidding, it didn't come up.