Three points on the Hagel hearings

By James Fallows

Chuck_Hagel_hearing_ap_img.jpg1) Whoever helped former Senator Chuck Hagel (AP photo, right) prepare for today's hearings should retire from the hearing-preparation business. It is hard to imagine how Hagel could have walked into that hearing room without bulletproof (or at least confident-sounding) replies ready on three of the questions he was sure to be asked: about his opposition to the Iraq "surge," about his comments on "the Jewish lobby," and about his policy toward Iran.

Maybe this was the same team that prepared Barack Obama for his first debate last fall? Just a thought.

2) Whatever mistakes Barack Obama may have made as president, today's hearings reminded us of one very important accomplishment. Because of him, the choleric and bullying figure that John McCain has become does not sit in the White House.

3) Virtually none of the hostile questions for Hagel reflected awareness that a Secretary of Defense, no matter how influential, does not set US foreign policy, does not decide where and whether to commit troops, does not decide on boycotts versus engagement with Iran, does not make war-or-peace decisions, and in countless other ways is not the President of the United States. We're used to "security theatre" at the airport. "Hearings theatre" is a far longer-established practice.

Bonus Point #4! As is so often the case, Sen. Jim Inhofe was in a class by himself. Here he impugns Hagel by saying that the Iranian foreign ministry supports him.

Senator Hagel did neither himself nor the Administration any favors with his performance today. But he was far from the most disappointing figure in the room.

This article was originally published at The Atlantic

1 February 2013