Today saw the confirmation hearings for Chuck Hagel, quite possibly the most controversial cabinet nominee of President Obama’s second term. For Hagel, a man who has been thoroughly dogged by criticism over his record of dubious statements regarding Israel, as well as questions regarding his capacity for management, this was an opportunity to set the record straight and quiet his critics. It was, in short, an important (possibly even crucial) event as confirmation hearings go.
Did Hagel manage to do what he needed? So far, according to most commentators, the answer appears to be a thundering “no.” In fact, Hagel may have hurt himself, judging by some of the reactions, which have been negative not just from the predictable chorus of presidential critics on the Right, but even from liberals who would be more inclined to support Hagel’s confirmation. Even most news stories describe Hagel as defensive, hedging, inconsistent and excessively nonconfrontational when pressed. Witness this from Politico:
Chuck Hagel stumbled Thursday during questioning on Iran, inadvertently saying the Obama administration supports “containment” and calling the country an “elected legitimate government.”
“I support the president’s strong position on containment, as I have said,” the former Republican senator from Nebraska told the Senate Armed Services Committee considering his nomination for Defense secretary.[...]
Later, Hagel, who was being questioned by Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), was passed a note informing him of his mistake, and he offered a correction.
“I misspoke and said I supported the president’s position on containment. If I said that, I meant to say we don’t have a position on containment,” Hagel said.