Battleland

Chuck Hagel’s Third Purple Heart

  • Share
  • Read Later
Alex Wong / Getty Images

Chuck Hagel before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday.

Chuck Hagel, who earned a pair of Purple Hearts as a grunt in Vietnam, all but earned a third on Thursday during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

He came away from seven hours of testimony politically bloodied, but seemingly not mortally wounded — yet. Nonetheless, the presumed defense secretary did himself no favors Thursday.

While many in the national-security community have endorsed Hagel’s nomination, some GOP lawmakers have argued that he is too soft on Iran, anti-Israel, and too eager to cut the U.S. nuclear arsenal. Hagel denied the charges, but he did stumble, and many of his answers seemed tentative. He said, most notably, that the Obama Administration endorses “containment” of Iran’s nuclear ambitions, when it actually embraces “prevention.”

The consensus among congressional aides late Thursday was that Hagel will likely win committee support, largely along party lines, and also ultimately confirmation from the full Senate. But their mood was less certain late Thursday than it was on Wednesday.

(MORE: Can Chuck Hagel Overcome?)

The most dispiriting element of the day was the focus on Hagel’s past policy views. Whatever they may have been, a defense secretary doesn’t make policy – he carries out the President’s orders. And the emphasis on the past wasted time that could better have been spent on the not-inconsiderable challenges the Pentagon faces in the future. It seemed that Hagel was chaff for committee Republicans, whose real target was the commander-in-chief.

Part of the hearing seemed to take place in an alternate universe, where Democrats spoke in favor of the nomination of the former Republican senator from Nebraska, while his GOP comrades voiced their opposition. Senator Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, the new ranking Republican on the committee, said he would oppose Hagel because “he would be a staunch advocate for the continuation of the misguided policies of the President’s first term” – as if Obama’s re-election, and the national mood it reflected, counted for squat.

For those too young to have witnessed the real thing, the Vietnam War replayed during the hearing, pitting sitting Senator John McCain, R-Ariz., against Hagel, who had served as a co-chairman of McCain’s failed 2000 presidential bid.

But this time, instead of the soldier fragging the officer, as often happened in Vietnam, the officer fragged the soldier. It was the ultimate in friendly fire: a hotshot Navy pilot trying to doom the nomination of an Army grunt who served at just about the same time in Vietnam.

(PHOTOS: Legacy in Leaves: The Vietnam War Remembered)

Hagel famously said in 2006 that the then-impending “surge” of 30,000 additional U.S. troops into Iraq “represents the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam.” The reinforcements, of course, ended up calming Iraq, and – with help from the Sunni “Sons of Iraq” movement – pushed Iraq away from the brink of civil war.

McCain has never forgiven his former friend’s words. Thursday morning, he finally had Hagel in his crosshairs. He pulled the trigger relentlessly:

McCain: Do you stand by that — those comments, Senator Hagel?
Hagel: Well, Senator, I stand by them because I made them. And –
McCain: You stand by — were you right?
Hagel: Well –
McCain: Were you correct in your assessment?
Hagel: Well, I would defer to the judgment of history to sort that out, but I’ll –
McCain: I think — we — committee deserves your judgment as to whether you were right or wrong about the surge.
Hagel: I’ll explain why I made those comments, and I believe I had, but –
McCain: I want to know if you were right or wrong. That’s a direct question. I expect a direct answer.
Hagel: The surge assisted in the objective. But if we review the record a little bit –
McCain: Will you please answer the question? Were you correct or incorrect when you said that the surge would be the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam? Were you correct or incorrect?
Hagel: My –
McCain: Yes or no?
Hagel: My reference to the surge being both dangerous –
McCain: Are you going to answer the question, Senator Hagel? The question is, were you right or wrong? That’s a pretty straightforward question.
Hagel: Well –
McCain: I will — I would like to answer whether you were right or wrong, and then you are free to elaborate.
Hagel: Well, I’m not going to give you a yes or no answer on a lot of things today.

It wasn’t clear whether Hagel upset McCain because Hagel had labeled the surge a disaster, Vietnam a disaster – or both. But it didn’t make much difference.

More important was the Hagel team’s apparent inability to prepare for McCain’s all-but-inevitable question, and to outfit their man with something better than verbal hillbilly armor to respond to it.

(MORE: John McCain To Chuck Hagel: I Told You So)

It was these kinds of issues – the plain-spoken Hagel having his words repeatedly read back to him by Republican senators, eager to cast every passage in the most dire light – that took its toll over the long day of questioning. Many of Hagel’s answers were halting, and wrapped in the hindsight of someone acknowledging he wished he had said things differently.

He spoke, truth be told, not like an officer (or a senator), but like a soldier. Yes, he once said that there was no reason for Israel to “keep Palestinians caged up like animals,” he conceded to Republican Senator Mike Lee of Utah, after the lawmaker recited a Hagel quote. “If I had an opportunity to edit that, like many things I’ve said,” Hagel added, “I would like to go back and change the words.”

It’s part of the grunt’s lingo: you say what you feel. Only officers and senators speak for the record. Hagel, if he makes it, would be the first Vietnam veteran ever to run the Pentagon. He’d also be one of the few enlisted men to hold the post; James Forrestal (1947-49) and William Perry (1994-97) both served short stints as non-officers in the U.S. military before going on to run the Defense Department.

It was a strange hearing, given the firepower backing Hagel. He had been introduced by two former giants of the Senate – and the armed services committee — Democrat Sam Nunn of Georgia, and Republican John Warner of Virginia. His nomination has been endorsed by a who’s-who of national-security heavyweights, including Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, former defense secretary Robert Gates, and GOP stalwarts including Colin Powell and Brent Scowcroft.

But the ack-ack of GOP opposition seemed to rattle the White House, as well as the nominee. Some of the Republican fire had hit its target.

VIDEO: Inhofe Asks Hagel Why Iran Endorses His Nomination

61 comments
Zeb
Zeb

The problem was not the questions, but the answers.

Pretty feckless. What an incompetent.

jilli.brown
jilli.brown

Is Mr. Hagel being considered for the role of Sec Def for the United States or Israel?  Listening to the hearing, it's hard to tell.

wukong
wukong

Purple Hearts are given for wounds from combat action and not for self-inflicted wound from running from the battlefield.

DonQuixotic
DonQuixotic

If McCain Sinks Hagel, It Will Definitely Be Personal

McCain was the only Republican senator on the committees that held hearings for Hagel and Kerry. By comparing the performances, you get a sense of how much the personal has become political for McCain. McCain and Hagel used to be good friends. But they became estranged when they held opposite views on the Iraq surge. Earlier this month, as the initial controversy over President Obama's nomination of Hagel to the Pentagon brewed, one of McCain's 2008 advisers told The New York Times that McCain "takes policy disputes very, very personally." In Hagel's hearing, McCain demanded Hagel say whether history had proven him wrong on the surge. Hagel would not. McCain implied that his vote depended on Hagel saying he was wrong. "Your refusal to answer whether you were right or wrong about is going to have an impact on my judgment as to whether vote for your confirmation or not," McCain said. These positions are very important, McCain continued: "They're not reasonable people disagreeing; they’re fundamental disagreements."

Yet McCain mentioned none of this in Kerry's hearing. In fact, McCain said Kerry's personal qualities overrode their policy differences. "I'd like to take a few moments to attest to the personal qualities that SenatorKerry would bring to the office of secretary of state, which I think are well suited to the position," McCain said. "He and I have been friends for quite a long time now. We've had our disagreements, which is unsurprising, given our political differences." Then McCain attributed his sustained friendship with Kerry to them both having served in Vietnam — something Hagel did, too! "But the friendship has endured, I believe it is based in mutual respect," McCain said. "Some observers have attributed that respect to the fact that when we were much younger, nicer and better looking men than we are now, Senator Kerry and I spent some time at the Navy's behest in a certain southeast Asian country in less pleasant circumstances than we're accustomed to in the United States Senate." Then McCain said he supported Kerry for Secretary of State based on their work together on POWs in Vietnam.

grape_crush
grape_crush

>  The reinforcements, of course, ended up calming Iraq, and – with help from the Sunni “Sons of Iraq” movement..

Think you got that backward, Mark. The 'surge' would have been a disaster if the Iraqis had not decided to knock off the sectarian violence.

Other than that, it's a fair article. Chances are that Hagel will still get the Senate's blessing in a vote (unless some crank GOPer decides to block things).


lhemby
lhemby

Well developed article.  Congrats!  

WhatMeWorry?
WhatMeWorry?

Despite numerous relevant topics (wounded warriors, potential budget cuts, increases in the use of drones, withdrawals from Afghanastan and Iraq, North Korea, etc. 

DonQuixotic
DonQuixotic

If Hagel gets voted down I would love to see Obama nominate McCain so he can block himself and be cannibalized by his own party for having Obama cooties.

KountyKobbler
KountyKobbler

John  Mc Cain and his parallel  fly boy Lindsay Graham  they act like someone put a nest of angry  hornets in their shorts tag team  interrogator need to go to  Guantanamo and do the rest of the interviews with the enemy combatants  This was a modern Salem Witch hunt  just missing the dunking stool and a deep pond  The War Hawks need to find  a time out  of congress soon  before they have heart attacks from all the hate they are spewing in the guise of  National Security.

superlogi
superlogi

A good choice for Obama, since he'll still retain his intellectual superiority during cabinet meetings.

CerebralSmartie
CerebralSmartie

Mark Thompson

" He spoke not like an officer but like a grunt."  Officers - how do they speak? An officer is one who holds an  office of trust, authority, or command , or one who holds a position of authority or command in the armed forces. Grunts- how do they speak?  A grunt is a United States army or marine foot soldier, especially in the Vietnam War. It is likely that as this hearing progresses  Hagel's defense team will take a different strategy, one that has a little more oomph than "verbal hillbilly armor" and that Hagel's true "officer speak " will shine. It will be fun to observe.

Will John McCain  deliberately injure or kill his presumed  military leader- Hagel- by means of  a fragmentation grenade of verbal assualts? Why is it that McCain has said he still has not decided? (Big side note-Has McCain lost his credibility as a recruitment officer, after recruiting Sarah Palin as a running mate? )

 A surge against Hagel  during the Senate hearing was inevitable , considering Hagel's basic world view that America must be careful not to turn too quickly to military intervention before exhausting diplomatic options. When Hagel says stuff like " We need to be cautious with our power," as Hagel has said, is this  is a direct hit to the neo-conservative wing in his party? Or, more importantly, is Hagel's skepticism of the continued utility of intercontinental ballistic missiles  a clear and present danger to war opportunists- the companies that benefit from war? 

Those who  sharply attack Hagel do not seem to appreciate Hagel's leadership qualities - such as his deliberate strategy of avoiding partisan conflict, his support of multilateral sanctions on Iran, his insistence that "every action should be bilateral" when it comes to nuclear arms reductions,  and his explicitly stated beliefs that America "must engage-not retreat-in the world". People like Hagel earn Purple Hearts for a reason.


antonmarq
antonmarq

It's nice to watch the senate spin their wheels, isn't it! Well people, it's your government at work, or not. 

Arimathean
Arimathean

I do not want a SecDef who minces words.  That's what the SecState is for.  With a brother enlisted in the military, I want a SecDef who isn't afraid to second guess himself before ordering troops into an escalating battle. 


I didn't really have an opinion on Hagel before the hearing.  After watching bits of the hearing, I approve of him more and more.

MrObvious
MrObvious

McCain reminds us daily that we're glad he's not our president. He's like a big bag of shit that GOP left on our doorstep on fire. And we're just glad we didn't step on it. Between him, Lindsey and Inhofe, GOP sure collects the trifecta of grandstanding worthless and parade them in front of the entire American people.

darmyman
darmyman

The hearing proved what a unmitigated disaster Hagel would be as DS. It was painful to watch.

AlexVallas
AlexVallas

I was very disappointed in Hagel's performance, primarily because he was under harsh attack and was not able to defend himself more effectively.  That is not a good endorsement for a person that would be in negotiations and discussions regarding the country's defense.  No doubt, he was shocked at some of the extremely harsh attacks by his fellow senators, in particular, McCain and Graham.  McCain has become increasingly hostile and obnoxious.  He has a chip (tree) on his shoulder for not winning the election.  He has become senile as indicated by his often rambling without logic, losing his train of thought and laughing at tragic situations.  Lindsey Graham is another bitter individual.  When he asked Hagel if he thought the Jewish Lobby had influenced (cannot remember exact word) any member of congress and if so name them,. he should have responded "look in the mirror."  Anyone who denies AIPAC's influence on Congress is living on another planet. 

sacredh
sacredh

"His nomination has been endorsed by a who’s-who of national-security heavyweights, including Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, former defense secretary Robert Gates, and GOP stalwarts including Colin Powell and Brent Scowcroft."

.

Colin Powell might not be a GOP stalwart anymore. Powell endorsed Obama TWICE which makes him a RINO at best.

Curious_Quiche
Curious_Quiche

@Zeb That was not incompetence. That was not-giving-a-shit-itis, and it is the proper and natural response to being berated by senile old men who are simultaneously yelling and filling their Depends. Bonus points for dropping a "feckless" in there, though. Change a vowel and you have a word that described Hagel's attitude to this Republican fartblizzard.

MrObvious
MrObvious

@grape_crush 

For all their blustering I'm sure the panels 'elder statesmen' realize what a loser it would be to obstruct this appointment.

lurch
lurch

@WhatMeWorry? 

Israel was mentioned more than 125 times because the "Christian's" must keep Israel safe and Jewish. So when God comes back to
Israel, The Jewish people have to repent or Jesus will smite them.

Curious_Quiche
Curious_Quiche

@DonQuixotic Bonus points if the cannibalization is literal. If you take of McCain's body, will it turn into Nilla wafers in some strange act of Republican reverse transubstantiation?

superlogi
superlogi

@KountyKobbler But Chucky voted to go into Iraq, before he preached about getting out of Iraq and against the surge which brought and end to the war.  Oh well, he and John Kerry can commiserate about those nasty wars they both fought in and voted for, and against, together.

pakehaole
pakehaole

@CerebralSmartie I like the commentary.  Yep, I recall that officers were deemed so by the Congress.  Grunts, on the other hand, simply were drafted or enlisted.  The one word that was missing in the piece was "Leadership."  The government can create authority and establish command (as in structure); but, it's only through trust is there "leadership."  Some of the officers had it; other couldn't spell the word.  My experience was always to ask the "lifer" -- the NCO who had already been there and done that.  I know that Sgt Hagel will make a great leader at DOD.  After all, viewing the field at gound level is far better than sitting in a fast-mover at 10,000 feet -- abort! abort! 

AlexVallas
AlexVallas

@Iamretired That's why his wife bought him the election.  She does't want in in Arizona.

darmyman
darmyman

@sacredh An endorsement by the ones you mentioned give even more pause to approving Hagel.

sixtymile
sixtymile

@MrObvious True, excepting a certain 'elder' who appears to be locked into politics-by-grudge. We are all so fortunate he did not make it to the presidency.

nflfoghorn
nflfoghorn

They believe that the nations who treat Israel with kid gloves will be blessed themselves.  Now they also believe that individuals who do not recognize Jesus as Lord and Savior will be lost in eternity.  Does that mean we'll save you in order for God to kill you?

WhatMeWorry?
WhatMeWorry?

@DonQuixotic @WhatMeWorry? Wasn't it Chuck Hagel who said, "I am a US Senator, not a senator for Israel"?  Dem and Reps can't agree on a single issue, but yesterday we witnessed a parade of senators falling over themselves in lock step to profess their undying, unwavering support of the "special bond" between the US and Israel.  Why - exactly - is this bond so special? Aren't our alliances with Britain, France, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Canada, Poland,  etc. for more important to the US than our relationship with Israel?

sacredh
sacredh

Ftw.

.

Palin: Take eat for this is my body.

McCain: Hubba hubba.

sacredh
sacredh

I think Hagel will be confirmed despite the contentiousness from the right. A good deal of the opposition is just theater.

sacredh
sacredh

I watched some of the confirmation hearings. Listening to the republicans grilling Hagel made me think "trolls".

MrObvious
MrObvious

@sixtymile @MrObvious 

I'm sure; it'll be interesting which devil or angel on his shoulder will win. The one on the left side with the pitch fork or the right shoulder with a pack of dynamite behind its back.

sacredh
sacredh

I'm more worried about a little punch to the sac. I mean he drowned the world once. Beanball is a little low-ball.

sacredh
sacredh

Thor. My MIL isn't the devil, but she's a blood relative.

nflfoghorn
nflfoghorn

Yeh, but one day he might beanball ya  ; )

sacredh
sacredh

"The Almighty might shoot us down."

.

Every time there's a lightning strike up by my house, I run out on the porch and shout "Haha, ya missed again. You throw like a girl". 

nflfoghorn
nflfoghorn

Their God = Our God.  Don't wanna get on the wrong side of Israel y'know.  The Almighty might shoot us down. 

'Wonder if we'll ever get a news doc on how the U.S. helped create the Israeli nation-state in the first place back in 1948?

superlogi
superlogi

@CerebralSmartie @superlogi @KountyKobbler Well, I wouldn't know about that, simply because it was my understanding, at least, that Iraq was amassing WMD's because of the intelligence coming out of not only the US but four other countries as well.  That and because he'd already used them against Iran and his own people. And then, of course, five years before we actually went in, Bill Clinton bombed the country because he thought they had WMD's including nukes.  I guess my comment was directed more at the man's hypocrisy than his poor judgement.

Sacotomato
Sacotomato

@sacredh I was thinking the same thing. What happened to the moderate Republican McCain from 2000? Ham Rove and the rest of the Bush team clearly did some serious damage.

bokeh9
bokeh9

He's a hero but more for his ability to take a hit than his skill or judgement.  I sincerely don't mean to denigrate his heroism, just to give it context.

sacredh
sacredh

It's a shame that McCain has tarnished his reputation as much as he has since 2000. You watch his antics and wonder "what happened to you?".

MrObvious
MrObvious

@sacredh 

Although mythologically I'm sure acid squirts all over the place if McCain cuts himself.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,104 other followers