McCain pounds Chuck Hagel in Senate confirmation hearing
At the confirmation hearing for Chuck Hagel as Defense secretary, Sen. John McCain took a particularly robust line of questioning, asking him about his views on the surge in Iraq.
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He added that he never voted against Israel, “ever,” in the 12 years he was in the Senate, and he pointed to statements from the Israeli ambassador to the United States that have been “fairly positive about me.”Skip to next paragraph
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Hagel’s most contentious exchange came with Senator McCain, who remarked that he was “pleased to see an old friend here before the committee” before launching into a particularly robust line of questions on the surge in Iraq.
He reminded Hagel of his comments labeling the surge as the “most dangerous foreign-policy blunder in this country” since Vietnam. “Then of course you carried on for months and months afterwards, talking about what a disaster the surge would be,” he said.
What McCain really wanted to know, he told Hagel, is, “Were you right? Were you correct in your assessment?”
On this question, Hagel demurred, much to McCain’s consternation. “I’ll defer my answer to history,” he said.
“I want to know if you were right or wrong,” McCain responded. “That’s a direct question. I expect a direct answer.”
Hagel did not provide one. “I’m not going to give you a ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ I think it’s far more complicated than that.”
Hagel did say he continued to believe that America’s war in Iraq was indeed the most dangerous foreign-policy blunder America has made since Vietnam.
“Aside from the costs that occurred in this country to blood and treasure,” he said, “what that did [was] to take our focus off of Afghanistan, which in fact was the original and real focus of a national-security threat to this country.”
These answers did not please McCain. “I think history has already made a judgment about the surge, sir,” he said. “And you’re on the wrong side of it.”
McCain warned that he did not know whether he could vote for Hagel, given what he said was the nominee’s refusal to answer a direct question.
Throughout the hearing, Hagel stressed his take-home message, that his chief concern at the Pentagon would be the troops who bear the cost of US policy decisions.
“I had one fundamental question that I asked myself on every vote I took, every decision I made: Was the policy worthy of the men and women that we were sending into battle and, surely, to their deaths?”
He recalled his service in Vietnam in 1968, serving side by side with his brother Tom during “the worst year” of the US war there, in which “we sent over 16,000 dead Americans home,” he reminded the committee.
“Now, that’s unfathomable in the world that we live in today. I saw that from the bottom,” he said. “It doesn’t mean I’m any better, Senator. It doesn’t mean I’m any smarter, doesn’t mean I’m any more appreciative of the service to our country. That’s not it.”
It’s simply that “I saw the consequences,” he added. “And the suffering and the horror of war.”