The Senate's "advice and consent" role doesn't require it to rubber-stamp a presidential appointee for secretary of defense who senators believe would weaken America in this increasingly dangerous world.
Notwithstanding former Sen. Chuck Hagel's diminished view of the post -- "I won't be in a policymaking position" -- the secretary of defense is an exceedingly important position and must be filled with someone who understands the complexity and gravity of the threats we face.
In his testimony at his confirmation hearing, Hagel demonstrated a remarkable unwillingness to clarify his past statements, a stunning misapprehension of the identity, intentions and capabilities of our enemies, and a disturbing ignorance of the critical subject matter on which he would be advising the president. For example, he was unaware that the sequester cuts come out of the Budget Control Act.
As tentative and confused as Hagel appeared, it might seem unfair to describe him as arrogant. But how can anything but hubris explain Hagel's defiant refusal either to stand by or to renounce his bizarre statement that the Iraq surge was our greatest foreign policy error since Vietnam?
Hagel surely has an opinion now on whether his statement was correct, and those charged with making a determination on his fitness for the position are entitled to know his opinion. These are not matters you take on trust; we're talking about the national security of the United States, not some ambassadorship to the North Pole.
But Hagel's past statements on Iraq and his refusal to own up to his errors pale in comparison with his alarming responses concerning President Obama's policy on Iran. His bewilderment and flip-flopping would have been amusing but for the seriousness of the subject matter.
But it only got worse. When asked about Iran's nuclear weapons efforts, Hagel said, "I support the president's strong position on containment." Notice the total lack of ambiguity in Hagel's assertion. After being handed a note presumably informing him of his misstatement of the president's policy, Hagel backed off slightly, saying, "We don't have a position on containment." Strike two -- but Hagel still wasn't getting it. Sen. Carl Levin had to carry him over the finish line, telling him, "Just to make sure your correction is clear, we do have a position on containment -- which is that we do not favor containment."
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