Senate hearings on the nomination of Chuck Hagel to be defense secretary will be a distinctive Washington entertainment, a donnybrook without drama. He should be confirmed: Presidents are due substantial deference in selecting Cabinet members because they administer presidential policies and, unlike judicial appointments, they leave when their nominators do. Hagel will be confirmed because Sen. Chuck Schumer, after hesitating theatrically enough to propitiate supporters of Israel, of whom there are many among his New York constituents, has decided not to oppose Hagel. Opposition would have ended Schumer’s hope to make the nation nostalgic for Harry Reid by succeeding him as Senate Democratic leader. Still, the hearings will be sound and fury signifying renewed interest in national security policy, which can be illuminated by Hagel addressing questions like these:
●In 1997, 28 years after you returned from Vietnam with two Purple Hearts, we heard a May 27, 1964, taped telephone conversation in which President Lyndon Johnson said to his national security adviser, McGeorge Bundy: “I don’t think it’s worth fighting for, and I don’t think we can get out.” Johnson also said: “What in the hell is Vietnam worth to me? What is Laos worth to me? What is it worth to this country?” At the time, there were only 16,000 U.S. forces in Vietnam, where there had been only 266 U.S. deaths. The U.S. deployment would peak at more than 500,000 in 1969 and 58,000 would die there. How did this tape, and Vietnam generally, shape your thinking?