U.S. President Barack Obama’s pick for Defence Secretary, former Republican Senator from Nebraska Charles “Chuck” Hagel, faced an uninspiring grilling from the 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 — appeared less than well-prepared for the questions from Republican Senators such as Lindsey Graham and John McCain and was not able to prevent them from interrupting his remarks.
At the heart of the bitter criticism heaped on 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 keen to keep the 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-Qaeda threat and the military drawdown in Afghanistan, got entirely sidelined.