Chuck Hagel’s neocon critics are likely glowing after his lackluster performance during his Senate committee hearing on his nomination to become the next Secretary of Defense. But while the usual suspects are reveling in their one moment of joy in their anti-Hagel smear campaign, the hearings probably said more about the direction of the Republican Party (see: Ted Cruz) than anything else. The Republican senators’ bitterness, lack of civility and contempt for a decorated war hero who volunteered for front-line service in Vietnam didn’t do any favors for the image of their party.
Yet most fair-minded Americans didn’t see much to disqualify Hagel as the next Pentagon chief. With the exception of the Wall Street Journal — whose neocon editorial board has allowed its pages to call Chuck Hagel an anti-Semite — the nation’s leading newspapers agree:
The New York Times: [I]t’s clear that Mr. Hagel is very much in the mainstream of American foreign policy, has a résumé and experience that would be valuable at the Pentagon and is capable of speaking his mind, even if he allowed himself on Thursday to back off on some positions, like his concern for Palestinians, in the face of a Republican attack on his nomination. Republicans on the military affairs panel may vote against him for political reasons, but they have no cause to do so, and he should be confirmed by the full Senate.
Los Angeles Times: It was clear before former Sen. Chuck Hagel’s confirmation hearings that he possessed the necessary personal and professional qualifications to serve as secretary of Defense. Hagel’s testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday demonstrated that his views about foreign and defense policy are not only well within the mainstream but consonant with those of the president who selected him.
USA Today: Republican senators roughed up their former colleague Chuck Hagel throughout his confirmation hearing Thursday to be secretary of Defense, but they produced no convincing proof that his views are outside the mainstream or that the decorated Vietnam combat veteran is unfit to head the Pentagon.
The Washington Post didn’t publish an editorial on Hagel’s hearing in today’s newspaper, but the Post ed board wrote early last month that it supports the former Republican senator’s bid.
Most of Hagel’s hearing focused — not on pressing issues the Defense Department may face, like Syria, force structure, military spending, veteran unemployment, homelessness and suicide or national security threats like climate change — but rather on smears and policy distortions on Israel and Iran the neocons have been leveling at Hagel for the past two months.
And while Hagel didn’t handle the onslaught as well as he probably could have, as CAP’s Matt Duss writes today in the American Prospect: “Despite yesterday’s performance, the odds are still good that Hagel will be confirmed as our next Secretary of Defense. He’ll move on. But it appears that congressional Republicans, who continue to play to the same right-wing base with the same belligerent ultra-nationalism that majorities of Americans have rejected in two successive presidential elections, simply can’t.”