‘Shaky.” “Struggling.” “Awkward.” “Not impressed.” “Unresponsive and bumbling.” “Disaster.” These are some of the words used by observers left, right, and middle to describe Chuck Hagel’s appearance before the United States Senate yesterday.
They might be underselling it. Hagel attempted to contextualize his comments about the intimidating “Jewish lobby” by noting that that was only time he used those words “on the record.” Later, in response to a challenge from Senator Graham to name one person or one “dumb” government policy negatively influenced by Jewish intimidation, Hagel drew a blank. When asked if he stood by an Al Jazeera interview in which he agreed with the characterization of the United States as “the world’s bully,” Hagel split follicles by noting that, “My comment was it’s a relevant and good observation. I don’t think that I said I agree with it.” He answered a question about his vote against designating the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist group by claiming it would have been unprecedented to call an arm of “an elected, legitimate government” terrorists, “whether we agree or not.” An hour or so later, White House press secretary Jay Carney dodged a question about whether the president agreed.
Hagel also ran afoul of the president — and perhaps of his wits — when he said that he “support[ed] the president’s strong position on containment,” rather than prevention, of a nuclear Iran. Later, after being handed a note, he said “I misspoke and said I supported the president’s position on containment. If I said that, I meant to say we don’t have a position on containment.” But this wasn’t quite right either, as pointed out by Senator Carl Levin (D., Mich.). “We do have a position on containment, and that is we do not favor containment,” Levin said. “I just wanted to clarify the clarify.”
Mr. Hagel best summed up his eight hours ordeal when he assured his interlocutors that “if confirmed, I intend to know a lot more than I do.”
To be fair to the man’s plight, I’ve gone through my own flip-flops and perambulations on the Hagel nomination. At first I thought him so ill-suited to the job, and so widely understood to be so ill-suited to the job, that president Obama could hardly appoint him. When the president went ahead and appointed him anyway — perhaps as an act of second-term-honeymoon defiance in the face of the preemptive implosion of the Susan Rice nomination to State — I admitted my mistake:
It appears as though the Editors of National Review Online – not to mention yours truly — were too hasty in concluding last month that “Chuck Hagel is definitively not the man who should be the next secretary of defense. And considering the problems it will create for the Obama administration should they nominate him, we trust he won’t be.”
Because it now seems clear that Barack Obama will get Chuck Hagel as his next secretary of defense.
But I availed myself of an escape hatch, the kind they teach you about on day one of Pundit School:
Things could still change, of course. Confirmation hearings could bring new information to light. Hagel could damage himself in testimony. Or a unified Republican caucus could mount a filibuster.
[Steps through hatch.] Things have changed. The confirmation hearing has brought new information to light. Hagel has damaged himself in testimony. And a unified Republican caucus might just mount a filibuster (Ted Cruz, for one, is already talking about placing a hold on the nomination).