While we were en route to the Golan plateau, the U.S. Senate confirmed John Kerry as America's new secretary of state. Kerry says "the Mideast peace process" is his "No. 1 priority." By the time we returned to this ancient city beside the Sea of Galilee, the Senate Armed Services Committee had commenced confirmation hearings on former Sen. Chuck Hagel's fitness to serve as secretary of defense.
Watching "news" from the United States in a foreign country is often a surreal experience. My natural default mode when I'm overseas is to defend my country, but the Hagel hearings made this task challenging, to say the least. The Israelis watching the "highlight reel" frequently asked questions such as, "Why would Obama pick a person who hates Jews to be your secretary of defense?" What's the pro-American answer to that?
From here, Hagel looks "confused," "uncertain" and "ignorant of reality." And those are among the kindest observations appearing in Israel's English-language media. His bewildering, deer-in-the-headlights muddle about the Obama administration's "containment policy" toward Iran's nuclear weapons program was undoubtedly acclaimed by the ayatollahs in Tehran. But here in Israel, it affirmed the worst fears of people who see Iranian nuclear weapons as an existential threat to the survival of the Jewish state.
There were many other issues in which Hagel provided perplexing, even alarming, responses to questions posed by Republican members of the Senate Armed Services Committee. For those of us who served in the Vietnam War, the exchange with Sen. John McCain about the "surge" in Iraq was simply bizarre. McCain asked Hagel whether he stood by a statement in 2007 that the surge in Iraq represented "the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam." Before the surge, he said, "If it's carried out, I will resist it."
In a lengthy and heated back-and-forth, McCain repeatedly challenged Hagel on whether he still agreed that the Iraq surge was a mistake. Hagel refused to answer. Unfortunately, nobody asked a far more important question: What was it about Vietnam that Hagel considers to be a "blunder"?
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.
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