The Hagel hearing yesterday was a perfect example of many of the things that make our foreign policy debate so dreary, stifling, unimaginative, and hopelessly biased in favor of destructive and cruel policies. The nominee was required to declare fealty and love repeatedly for another country as one questioner after another–from both parties–made sure that Hagel would “re-confirm” that he held no mildly thoughtful or dissenting views on U.S. relations with Israel or anything else before they would consent. Any remotely independent-minded and informed person watching the hearing yesterday would conclude that he should avoid public service if at all possible, or if that wasn’t possible he should learn to say nothing interesting and never utter any embarrassing truths that might be recorded and used later.
For his part, Hagel seemed remarkably ill-prepared for the avalanche of nonsense and irrelevant questions that he had to know the Republican committee members would direct at him. For the most part, the only people who drew any conclusions from yesterday’s spectacle about Hagel would do his job were the people eager to deprive him of it. The same people who spent the last six weeks lying about Hagel’s record and ignoring his qualifications declared vindication, and they would have done so no matter how well Hagel had done. So as bad as yesterday was for Hagel, I don’t see how it changes the outcome. If competence in management were determined by a nominee’s confirmation hearing performance, Donald Rumsfeld would be one of the best Secretaries of Defense in American history instead of one of the worst. The hearing yesterday was even more of a useless song-and-dance than these things tend to be, so I would invest what we saw yesterday with even less importance than usual when judging the nominee’s fitness to do the job.
More disappointing, but not at all surprising, was the readiness with which Hagel repudiated old statements or simply shrugged his way through pointed questions. When the ridiculous Ted Cruz had an opportunity, he thought he had caught Hagel saying something scandalous about the 2006 war in Lebanon. Instead of pushing back against the inane line of questioning and explaining that the 2006 war was a disproportionate military campaign that inflicted enormous suffering on the Lebanese civilian population, Hagel yielded. Perhaps he thought it made more sense to avoid re-litigating old disagreements, but his hard-line attackers were only too happy to do so. It didn’t matter to them that they have been consistently wrong on major issues for a decade; they’re oblivious to their failings, and have no intention of acknowledging them. So the decision to yield or backtrack on almost every point of contention did not have the desired effect on the Republican members, but just gave them an easy target to shoot at all day long.
The Republicans on the Armed Services Committee mostly distinguished themselves for their vapidity and fanaticism. The consensus seems to be that Ted Cruz was by far the worst in this regard, and based on what I saw that seems right. Cruz and his Republican colleagues on the committee may not appreciate this now, but they managed to inflict significant new damage on their party in one day. If anyone wants a clear, albeit tedious, lesson in why Republicans shouldn’t be trusted on national security and foreign policy matters, all one needs to do is watch the recording of that hearing.