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KENNEALLY: Hagel is not the right pick for Defense Secretary

Weak Senate hearing betrayed lack of qualification

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In comparison to Sen. John Kerry’s bloodless confirmation, Chuck Hagel’s blistering interrogation last week was a massacre by question mark. He seemed utterly unprepared for even the most predictable inquiries regarding his controversial record, apparently lulled into a false confidence by the Senate’s lazy complacency when Mr. Kerry took his turn under the Klieg lights. 

For much of the hearing Mr. Hagel looked confused. His responses were consistently naked evasions and limp obfuscations, delivered with the kind of lethargy that would undermine any content, let alone the absurdities he was peddling. No one watching could conceivably walk away persuaded Mr. Hagel is fit to be secretary of defense, though he might have argued himself out of a seat in the Senate.

That’s a description of Mr. Hagel at his best. Over and over again, he was grilled on a record that consistently mocked political moderation. He has criticized the so-called “intimidation” carried out by the “Jewish lobby”; has recommended American sovereignty be corseted by the International Criminal Court; has questioned the justice of American foreign policy on Al Jazeera; and has indicted Israel for its supposed “war crimes.”

Mr. Hagel’s self-defense sometimes relied upon potentially exculpatory context: “Well, I’d have to hear the entirety of the exchange to fully comment on it’s meaning.” He recycled this palsied maneuver even after Sen. Ted Cruz played the context of one of his more malignant remarks in its entirety from Youtube, which now immortalizes every politician’s worst missteps and gaffes.

Other times he simply denied that the view he expressed consistently over the course of 12 years in the Senate was ever really his own. Apparently, all 45 of those stridently lucid remarks have been grossly misinterpreted.

Of course, this particular gambit sometimes works, partially because Republicans are often too polite (or timorous) to challenge the sincerity of their colleagues. Remember that Justice Sonia Sotomayor responded to questions regarding 18 years of outrageously open-handed advocacy of judicial activism by calmly repeating, like an incantation: “I actually meant the opposite of that.” She was roundly confirmed. She has a memoir in the works.

Mr. Hagel is not a wise Latino woman, and the likes of Lindsey Graham, Kelly Ayotte, Roger Wicker, Ted Cruz and John McCain were not so merciful. While the niceties of jurisprudential philosophy can be unremittingly complex, most Americans can detect a wallop of crazy when they see it. They’re much less likely to tolerantly forebear such radicalism when it comes to a basic good like security. 

Mr. Hagel’s last line of defense was the intentional diminishment of the office he is hoping for. He tried to assure his colleagues in the Senate that his history of spectacular imprudence shouldn’t matter since now he will only be a feckless bureaucrat, with no power to make policy. Astonishingly, this was likely his most candid moment, and it shows why Mr. Obama nominated this unqualified grifter for such an important position in the first place. It should not take the greatest deliberative body in the world to reject his embarrassing candidacy.

Ivan Kenneally is the editor in chief of







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