“Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned” – author William Congreve in The Mourning Bride,1697
John McCain led the Republican Inquisition against Defense Secretary nominee Chuck Hagel yesterday, demanding his former best friend give him a Yes or No answer if the “Surge” in Iraq was successful or not. Former Senator Hagel said he deferred to history to be the judge of that. Our Senior Senator was not amused.
What happened to the friendship between John McCain and Chuck Hagel? Here they are in happier times:
That was John MCain campaigning for his friend in Chuck Hagel’s first run for the Senate in Nebraska in 1996.
And here is Chuck Hagel returning the favor, when he was Co-chair of McCain’s 2000 Presidential Campaign:
Chuck Hagel was intimately involved in McCain’s 2000 presidential bid, and was in New Hampshire the night the Arizona Senator won the New Hampshire presidential primary. But by the time McCain ran for president again in 2008 Hagel was much less enthusiastic. Not only did he not endorse McCain, Hagel also didn’t entirely dismiss the idea of serving as then Sen. Barack Obama’s vice presidential nominee. And Hagel’s wife endorsed Obama in the 2008 race. Then, in 2012, Hagel endorsed the candidacy of former Nebraska Democratic Senator Bob Kerrey in the Cornhusker State’s open seat Senate race, a move that badly rankled McCain – he had endorsed Kerrey’s opponent — Republican Deb Fischer — and campaigned with her the day after Hagel made his endorsement of Kerrey public.
What happened to their friendship? Chuck Hagel never forgot the lessons he learned as a “grunt”, an enlisted man, on the ground in Vietnam as he earned his two purple hearts. Chuck Hagel knows first hand the terrible consequences of war to those who actually have to do the fighting. John McCain, the son and grandson of Naval Officers who entered military service as a commission Ensign and pilot, never learned those lessons. He assured us we would be greeted as liberators by cheering adoring Iraqis, eternally grateful for us devastating their country with “Shock and Awe” 24/7 bombing. When it turned out that even if people don’t like their dictator ruler very much they like a foreign country invading and devastating their country even less, John McCain was the Bush Administration’s chief cheerleader for the “Surge” in more troops. And that’s where John McCain and Chuck Hagel parted company. Chuck Hagel, who had initially voted with McCain, most Republicans, and (too) many Democrats in authorizing the use of force in Iraq, now called the Iraq war a “quagmire” and the war the “most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam”. And a John McCain never forgets when someone – anyone – crosses him.
That’s the video of McCain’s questioning Mr. Hagel yesterday in the Senate confirmation hearing. And here’s the exchange:
McCAIN: Let me begin with your opposition to the surge in Iraq. 2006, we lost — Republicans lost the election, and we began to surge. And you wrote a piece in the Washington Post called, “Leaving Iraq Honorably.” 2007, you committed — you said it’s not in the national interest to deepen its military involvement. In January 2007, in a rather bizarre exchange with Secretary Rice in the Foreign Relations Committee after some nonsense about Syria and crossing the border into Iran and Syria, because of the surge, then — and a reference to Cambodia in 1970, you said, quote, “When you set in motion the kind of policy the president is talking about here, it’s very, very dangerous,” quote, “Matter of fact, I have to say, Madam Secretary, I think this speech given last night by this president represents the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam. If it is carried out, I will resist it.”
And then, of course, you continued on and on for months and months talking about what a disaster the surge would be even to the point where it was clear the surge was succeeding. In march 2008, you said, quote, “Here the term quagmires could apply. Some reject that term, but if that is not a quagmire, then what is?” Even as late as August 29, 2011, in an interview with the Financial Times you said, “I disagree with the President Obama, his decision to surge in Iraq as I did with President Bush on the surge in Iraq.” Do you — do you stand by that — those — those comments, Senator Hagel?
HAGEL: Well Senator, I stand by them because I made them. And…
MCCAIN: Were you right? Were you correct in your assessment?
HAGEL: I would defer to the judgment of history to sort that out. But I’ll…
MCCAIN: The committee deserves your judgment as to whether you were right or wrong about the surge.
HAGEL: I will explain why I made those comments, and…
MCCAIN: I want to know if you are right or wrong. That’s a direct question. I expect a direct answer.
HAGEL: The surge assisted in the objective. But — but, if we review the record a little bit…
MCCAIN: Will you please answer the question — were you correct or incorrect when he said the surge would be the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam? Were you correct or incorrect? Yes or no?
HAGEL: My reference to the surge being…
MCCAIN: Are you going to answer the question, Senator Hagel? The question is, were you right or wrong? That’s a straightforward question. I would like to answer whether you are right or wrong and then you are free to elaborate.
HAGEL: Well I’m not going to give you a yes or no answer.
MCCAIN: Well let the record show he refuses to answer the question. Now please go ahead.
HAGEL: Well If you would like me to explain…
MCCAIN: No, I actually would like an answer, yes or no.
HAGEL: Well I’m not going to give you a yes or no. I think it’s far more complicated than that. As I’ve already said, my answer is, I’ll defer that judgment to history. As to the comment I made about the most dangerous foreign policy decision since Vietnam, that was about not just the surge, but the overall war of choice going into Iraq. That particular decision that was made on the surge, but more to the point, our war in Iraq, I think was the most fundamentally bad, dangerous decision since Vietnam. Aside from the cost that occurred in this country to blood and treasure, aside what that did to take our focus off of Afghanistan, which in fact was — was the original and real focus of the national threat to this country, Iraq was not, I always tried to frame all of the different issues before I made a decision on anything. Now, just as you said Senator, we can have differences of opinion. But that’s — that’s essentially why I took the position.
MCCAIN: A fundamental difference of opinion, Senator Hagel. And Senator Graham and I, and Senator Lieberman, when there were 59 votes in the United States Senate, spent our time trying to prevent that 60th. Thank God for Senator Lieberman. I think history has already made a judgment about the surge, sir, and you’re on the wrong side of it. And your refusal to answer whether you were right or wrong about it is going to have an impact on my judgment as to whether to vote for your confirmation or not. I hope you will reconsider the fact that you refused to answer a fundamental question about an issue that took the lives of thousands of young Americans.
That’s it??? Was I right and weren’t you wrong? (about the Surge in Iraq). That is what will determine if John McCain will vote to confirm his former good friend as President Obama’s Defense Secretary? No questions about how Mr. Hagel will ensure our military readiness in face of the largest cuts to the defense budget since the end of WWII? No questions about how a Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel would try to contain the eminent collapse of Syrian President Assad from spreading turmoil throughout the Middle East? No questions of how we would deal with the very real possibility of Islamic fundamentalists taking control of Syria and Assad’s chemical and biological weapons? No questions about how we ensure Iran never possesses nuclear weapons? No questions about Mr. Hagel’s commitment to ensuring the end of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and recent opening of combat roles to women results in full equality throughout all branches of our military? No, the most important thing to John McCain is for Chuck Hagel agree that John McCain was right.
I’ll agree with Chuck Hagel and let history judge if the Surge was successful in turning the tide in the Iraq War. But John McCain demanding a ‘Yes, you were right’ is like a heavy smoker demanding a pat on the back for his decision to undergo quadruple bypass heart surgery to unblock his coronary arteries – Intelligent decisions to begin with would have eliminated the need for drastic action to avoid a bad ending. Like not smoking 2 packs a day for 40 years, or not going to war with a country that had nothing to do with 9/11 and posed no threat to us or Israel. And as a recipient of two Purple Hearts, Mr. Hagel deserved far more respect than was given to him in the confirmation hearings yesterday by John McCain and many of his fellow Republicans. Mr. Hagel would be the first enlisted man to ever serve as Secretary of Defense, and I think that says alot. He knows first hand the consequences of going to war, and believes that going to war should always be the very last resort. John McCain has never met a war he didn’t like. He complained loudly when President Obama wisely didn’t send in ground troops to help overthrow Ghaddafi, but relied on NATO airstrikes to support the Libyan people in overthrowing Ghaddafi themselves. McCain has complaining long and loudly that we aren’t in the middle of Syria’s civil war. And, God forbid, had McCain been elected President in 2008, I have no doubt we would be in the midst of a terribly costly and long war with Iran.
Chuck Hagel will make a very good Secretary of Defense. John McCain, loser of two Presidential campaigns, who lost 3 airplanes as a naval pilot, and who dumped his first wife – a former model – when a car accident left her disfigured and confined her to a wheelchair, has never been very good at anything. Except maybe at holding a grudge.