Chuck Hagel is a Republican, but he’s an iconoclastic Republican, one who turned against the Iraq War as a senator and became one of its most prominent opponents. It was therefore expected that, during his Senate confirmation hearing today, Hagel’s harshest questioning would come from members of his own party who supported the war until its very end. During his turn this morning, John McCain — who is not known for being shy about grilling cabinet nominees — didn’t disappoint.
Despite referring to Hagel as an “old friend,” McCain was at Peak Crotchety, badgering Hagel for a yes or no answer on whether he was right to call the 2007 Surge “the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam.” McCain interrupted Hagel again and again as he tried to provide a more nuanced answer. Eventually, Hagel was allowed to explain that his “blunder” quote referred to “the overall war of choice going into Iraq.” (Is that true, though? Here’s Hagel’s “blunder” remark in its original context.)
For what it’s worth, while the Surge may not have turned into “the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam,” the question of whether it “worked” is actually pretty complicated.
Update, 1:43 p.m.: McCain’s questioning was hardly Hagel’s only rough patch. At one point, Hagel claimed that he and Obama support “containment” of Iran (meaning, allowing it to obtain a nuclear weapon), then corrected himself after being handed a note.
Update 2:00 p.m.: More trouble: Despite once claiming that the Israel lobby pressures Congress into doing “dumb things,” Hagel could not provide a single example when challenged by Lindsey Graham.