The Senate Armed Services Committee has delayed a vote on the nomination of Chuck Hagel to serve as Defense Secretary after he failed to turn over requested financial information. Hagel had been asked to disclose details about foreign funding he had received, either through paid speeches or through entities with which he was involved. In a short statement yesterday, Hagel said he couldn’t comply with the request.
This information is critical to determining Hagel’s fitness to head the Defense Department. As Secretary, he assumes a lead role in defining, and protecting, America’s national security interests. The Senate is absolutely right to demand details about compensation he received from foreign entities. The disclosure will help allay concerns about possible conflicts of interest.
The stonewalling on the disclosure is just the latest stumble in Hagel’s path to confirmation. His performance at his confirmation hearing on January 31st was widely panned. Even Democrat supporters reported they were “shocked at how ill-prepared” Hagel was in the hearing. He didn’t seem ready to answer questions that were widely expected to be asked. On other questions he fumbled, having to later clarify his answers.
The worst part, though, was probably when Hagel admitted “I don’t know enough about [military programs and technology]. There are a lot of things I don’t know about. I, if confirmed, intend to know a lot more than I do.”
Heading the Defense Department is not made for on-the-job training. It is the largest, most complex organization in the world. It is also vital to America’s safety. Hagel has not been nominated for Commerce or Labor, where the nation could easily withstand a failed Secretary. He will be managing America’ military, through a period of budget cuts and reassessment of strategic threats.
Only a seasoned executive, with intimate knowledge of America’s military, could navigate the department and our country safely through those waters. Regardless of party, each Senator must carefully ask themselves whether they can support a nominee who seemed so ill-prepared and visibly incompetent in his hearing. If they do, then they are at least partly responsible for any calamities that may ensue.