Chuck Hagel testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee on January 31. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite.)
Chuck Hagel may still be confirmed by the Senate as secretary of defense, because Democrats who hold the majority will probably vote with the president. But if the Israel Lobby manages to cull a few Democrats to join what appears to be a growing Republican tidal wave against Hagel, he’ll be shot down. Just as Chas Freeman—whose views are in roughly the same ballpark as Hagel’s—was shot down, even before his appointment got off the ground three years ago.
But Hagel didn’t help himself with a confused, stumbling appearance yesterday in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Admittedly, the SFRC was infested with what seemed to rabid jackals, extreme-right Republicans like Ted Cruz of Texas and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, along with John McCain of Arizona, still fighting the long-lost Iraq war.
But Hagel, rather than take any of them on, shucked and jived his way through the ordeal. It was the Apology Tour, during which Hagel alternately apologized for having semi-progressive views on issues such as Israel and Iran or, otherwise, denied he had them.
As the Times reported:
There was dismay from Democrats and derision from Republicans about Mr. Hagel’s sometimes stumbling performance during seven and a half hours of testimony.
Chris Cillizza, writing in The Washington Post, slammed Hagel’s performance:
Former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel was, at turns, halting, befuddled and, often, just plain bad during his confirmation hearing to be the next Secretary of Defense.… He appeared to be taken completely aback by the aggressiveness of the questioning from many of his former Republican colleagues on long-hashed over topics like his posture toward Iran and Israel as well as his past statements regarding the surge in Iraq.
Cillizza thinks Hagel will be confirmed, despite all that, and I do, too. But Winslow Wheeler, an expert in defense spending who watched the proceedings with ever-greater gloom, believes that “the Hagel nomination to be secretary of defense is surely now in trouble.” He wrote in Time magazine:
Watching the Senate Armed Services Committee interact Thursday with former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel-President Obama’s candidate to be secretary of defense-was a profoundly depressing experience.
Hagel’s performance in his “confirmation” hearing was remarkable; he spent the day eating his own words under pressure mostly from Republicans-so much so that it is hard to understand what views he might actually hold.