Watching the Armed Services Committee meeting yesterday was not anyone’s idea of a pleasant way to spend the better part of an afternoon. It was a repeat of most of the worst moments of the confirmation hearing two weeks ago, and in some respects it was even worse than the hearing. The most contentious moment came when Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) reprimanded Ted Cruz for impugning Hagel’s patriotism when he was throwing out random suggestions that Hagel “might” have received money from North Korea or Saudi Arabia. Then Inhofe jumped in to defend Cruz by saying that Iran’s “endorsement” of Hagel’s nomination meant that Hagel was somehow “cozy” with Iran. “You can’t get cozier than that,” he intoned. Of course, it’s easy enough to dismiss all of this as nonsense and move on, but it’s worth saying a few words about how despicable these tactics are.
Between Cruz’s speculation that Hagel could be a foreign agent (he’s not impugning anyone’s patriotism, you see, he’s just “asking questions”) and Inhofe’s assertion that Hagel is somehow responsible for what Iranian officials say about his nomination, at least two of the Republican committee members disgraced their party yesterday. It has been common for many decades in foreign policy and national security debates to hurl accusations of “weakness” and “appeasement” as skeptics of hard-line policies, and war opponents have been routinely portrayed as disloyal or anti-American, but I believe it has been quite rare if not unheard of (at least in my lifetime) to see members of the Senate openly questioning the loyalty of a Cabinet nominee. It was a disgusting display, but unfortunately one that was an all-too-fitting conclusion to a campaign that has been dominated by dishonest and scurrilous attacks.