Former Senator Chuck Hagel, President Barack Obama’s nominee to be secretary of defense, faced aggressive questioning during his confirmation hearings on Thursday by some of the Senate’s most pro-war members.
Senator John McCain, trying to save the legacy of the illegal and discredited Iraq War, pressed Hagel on statements that the Bush administration military surge in Iraq was “the most dangerous foreign policy blunder since Vietnam.”
“Were you correct in your assessment” that the surge was wrong and ineffective? McCain asked.
Hagel tried to explain that the “blunder” part of the quote was in reference to the overall “war of choice” that was the Iraq War. But McCain refused to hear any answer that wasn’t a yes or no.
“I want to know if you were right or wrong. That’s a direct question I expect a direct answer.”
Hagel declined to echo his earlier strongly-worded critiques of the surge, said, “I’m not going to give you a yes or no answer…I’ll defer that judgment to history.”
Later, Sen. Lindsey Graham, possibly the most hawkish member of Congress, challenged Hagel’s 2008 claim that the “Jewish lobby,” or Israel lobby, “intimidates” people on Capitol Hill.
“Name one person here who’s been intimidated by the Jewish lobby,” Graham demanded. “Name one dumb thing we’ve been goaded into doing due to pressure by the Israeli or Jewish lobby.”
“I don’t know,” Hagel replied. “I didn’t have in mind a specific person.”
“Name one dumb thing we’ve been goaded into doing due to pressure by the Israeli or Jewish lobby.”
“I have already stated that I regret the terminology,” Hagel said.
“So give me an example of where we’ve been intimidated by the Israeli Jewish lobby to do something dumb,” Graham insisted.
“Well, I can’t give you an example,” Hagel admitted.
“Do you agree with me you shouldn’t have said that?”
“Yes,” Hagel admitted. “I’ve already said that.”
Indeed, Hagel refused to support his eminently supportable claim that the Israel lobby has intimidated Congress and has helped to lobby for US policies that are blindly accepting and even supportive of Israel’s worst crimes.
Republican Senator Ted Cruz soon followed by quoting an interview Hagel did on al Jazeera in 2009, in which Hagel responded to a question suggesting Israel had committed war crimes.
“Do you think the nation of Israel has committed war crimes?” Cruz asked Hagel.
“No I do not, senator. I’d want to look at the full context of the interview, but to answer your question, no,” Hagel said.
Many commentators are predicting Hagel will ultimately be confirmed, but there remains strong opposition to his nomination from the more conservative corners of the Senate.