Former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) has vindicated his critics thus far today in his confirmation hearings before the Senate Armed Service Committee for the post of Secretary of Defense. He has stumbled in attempting to explain his positions on Iran, nuclear disarmament, Israel, the Iraq "surge," and the "Jewish lobby." He has failed to explain contradictions between his voting record and his past statements on the one hand, and the positions he professes today on the other. Even liberals and supporters of Hagel are openly lamenting his poor performance.
Democrats on the committee are doing their best to inflate Hagel's thin resumé (belatedly discovered by Politico) by mentioning his military service at every opportunity. But they cannot cover for Hagel's errors and evasions--and he has been ably pinned down by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), and others. Hagel's performance has not only undermined faith in his views but faith in his competence. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), whose recent support for Hagel was seen as guaranteeing his success, must be reconsidering his vote.
It is clear that Hagel's success is critically important to the Obama administration, which seems to have guided his pre-hearing visits with Senate critics and Jewish organizations, and used the Pentagon to lobby hard for his confirmation. The opening statement by two former Senate Armed Services Committee chairs, the bipartisan duo of Sam Nunn (D-GA) and John Warner (R-VA), was well orchestrated--though Warner's prediction that Hagel's own opening statement would answer every objection may have set expectations he could not possibly meet.
It is precisely because this nomination is so important to the White House, and the radical foreign policy it wishes to assert, that Hagel is still likely to win confirmation. The vote will not be about Hagel; it will be about Obama, and the current crop of Democrats has shown little will to dissent from the presidential line. But there is no way, partisan loyalty aside, that any reasonable person could watch Hagel's performance and still vote "yes." His past service may qualify him for many high government positions. Secretary of Defense--clearly--is not one of them.