The people Hagel must worry about are the men and women of the Defense Department for whom the hearing was a first look at their next boss in action. It wasn’t a promising start.
If there is one characteristic that marks the military it is preparation — careful planning, covering all contingencies, firmness, clear questions and answers, personal discipline.
Being prepared is a military habit practiced for that moment when lives may depend on it. It’s a quality expected in its leaders.
The late Rep. Les Aspin (D-Wis.) chaired the House Armed Services Committee when in 1992 President Clinton asked him to be defense secretary. Aspin was extremely bright and a good politician. But he was casual, if not sloppy, not just in dress but in his habits. He lacked discipline. Meetings with him could start late and go on forever. He loved to explore every relevant aspect of an issue, and even those that weren’t relevant.
As one of Aspin’s long-term friends, I was among those who warned him that he had to shape up if he took the Pentagon job. His every step would be weighed by the military, from the Joint Chiefs on down the chain of command.
I was sitting in the stands at Fort Myer during Aspin’s welcoming ceremony in 1993. I will never forget the murmurs among the officers and enlisted men around me when Aspin, slouching and out of step, reviewed the troops.
Almost immediately he faced complicated issues, but Aspin’s easy-going style never gained much respect within “the building” — the Pentagon. Criticized for Somalia decisions and troubled by a heart problem, he resigned in early 1994.
The irony about Hagel’s hearing performance is that it hid his feisty personality and left the impression he could be pushed around. More than a half-dozen times he apologized for making perfectly acceptable statements, sometimes not bothering to correct senators who took those statements out of context.
He seemed to forget — or never realized — that he had that equally important audience at the Pentagon and on military bases around the world.
Too bad John Brennan testified after Hagel. The nominee to head the CIA clearly had that agency’s staff in mind Thursday as he sat before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
Several times he corrected or challenged senators. He told Sen. James E. Risch (R-Idaho) he disagreed “vehemently” with the conclusion that Brennan had leaked classified information in 2012. With Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.), Brennan questioned the accuracy of a news story that was the basis for Coats’s questions.