U.S. President Barack Obama’s pick for Defence Secretary, former Republican Senator from Nebraska Charles “Chuck” Hagel, faced an uninspiring grilling from a Senate Armed Services Committee during his confirmation hearing this week. The entire exercise appeared to be focused on scoring partisan points rather than truly testing the capabilities of the man who will occupy what is arguably one of the most important positions in the Obama cabinet.
Mr. Hagel — a Purple Heart-awarded Vietnam War veteran — himself appeared less than well-prepared for the questions from Republican Senators such as Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John McCain of Arizona, and did not seem to be able to prevent them from interrupting his remarks at points.
At the heart of could be described as the bitter criticism heaped upon Mr. Hagel were his nuanced position on America’s support to Israel, his willingness to negotiate with Iran rather than challenge it militarily, and his belief that the Pentagon’s budget was “bloated”.
In particular Mr. McCain and his colleagues such as freshman Texas Senator Ted Cruz appeared to be keen to keep the hearing’s focus firmly fixed on Mr. Hagel’s alleged attempts to walk back some of his past statements, including one in which he is said to have complained about the “Jewish lobby.”
In doing so, however, the top defence and foreign policy issues that Mr. Hagel is likely to have to deal with in office, such as the al Qaida threat and the military drawdown in Afghanistan, got entirely sidelined. According to a Washington Post journalist attending the proceedings, there were 136 mentions of Israel and 135 of Iran; however only 27 references to Afghanistan, two to al Qaida and only one to Mali.