The big question about former Senator Chuck Hagel's nomination as Secretary of Defense used to be the content of views. Now, it is his competence. He embarrassed himself and those who have publicly backed his nomination, in particular Senators Chuck Schumer and Armed Services Committee chairman Carl Levin.
There were more cringe-inducing moments than can be related here. For instance, his questioning by Lindsey Graham, as summarized by Paul Mirengoff of Powerline:
Are will still at war, Graham wants to know. After some stammering, Hagel says "Yes."
Graham's next question is "name one person in Congress who has been intimidated by the Jewish lobby." Hagel can't do it (or won't).
Now Graham wants Hagel to name one dumb thing Congress has done in response to pressure from the Israeli lobby. Hagel can't do it (or, actually, won't).
Graham wants to know why Hagel was one of 12 Senators who didn't sign a letter affirming Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. Hagel says that Senators shouldn't sign these kinds of letters - it infringes on the president's prerogative. But then, why did Hagel sign a letter denouncing the treatment of Jews by the Russians? Hagel can't answer, at least not coherently.
Graham asks if Hagel would vote today against designating the IRG a terrorist organiztion. Hagel hems and haws. Then he says he would, at least, reconsider the matter, since "times change."
Now Graham is asking about a letter Hagel refused to sign denouncing the intifada. He wants to know if Graham will admit that not signing this letter was a mistake. Hagel says he will look at the letter and answer later.
It be a letter that Hagel clearly should have signed because liberal Sen. Blumenthal, who follows Graham in the questioning, tells Hagel he hopes Hagel will now say he should have signed it.
Perhaps one of the worst moments in a fairly bad day for Hagel came when even one of his apparent supporters, committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., was forced to restate his position for him after Hagel twice misspoke about a critical issue: whether the Obama administration would accept mere "containment" of Iran's nuclear program, rather than prevention of it. Hagel, handed a piece of paper, 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," Hagel said. That's when Levin interjected: "We do have a position on containment, and that is we do not favor containment."
Hagel's failure to demonstrate a grasp of the fundamentals of the policies he will be implementing if confirmed is triply shocking. First, he is a veteran Senator, well known for asking tough questions in hearings. So he has no excuse for not preparing better. Second, he has let it be known that he had done three mock hearings in preparation for his big days yesterday. If so, he failed to learn anything from the experience. Third, the controversial statements he was grilled about have been drawing criticism for a very long time. He has had more than enough time to devise answers that would be at least slightly artful dodges.
The result is that at least some Democratic senators must be having qualms about voting to confirm a man who is visibly incompetent. CNN's Dana Bash reported on the buzz on the Senate floor about many being "shocked at how ill-prepared" Hagel was:
With 55 Democrats, even as dismal a performance as Hagel's is likely to be confirmed, unless Republicans decide to filibuster. That can't be ruled out, nor can a surge of conscience, however unlikely, among Democrats who understand that the world is too dangerous to allowthis man to be in charge of the United States military.
Perhaps the best indicator of Hagel's dismal performance is the comment offered by one of his Israel-hating supporters, M.J. Rosenberg, formerly of Media Matters. He tweeted:
I spent a couple of hours with Hagel a few years ago. Talked with him about Israel. Happily, he is lying today & knows it. He'll be a good SeDef.
Chuck Hagel demonstrated today that he isn't fit for such a senior post. His incompetent testimony should have embarrassed the president and backers like Chuck Schumer, who gambled his own reputation on a man who has little credibility. That may not be enough to derail a nomination that is being rammed through on a partisan basis by the Senate's majority caucus. But today's disappointing show by Hagel shamed not just Democrats but a nation whose defense is being entrusted to an incompetent liar.
The seven Democrat senators up for re-election in red states in 2014 need to think long and hard about voting to confirm Hagel. If they do so after this performance, the steady stream of gaffes and probable disasters coming from his tenure in office can be hung around their necks.