In the run-up to the Senate Armed Services Committee's hearing this Thursday on Chuck Hagel's fitness to become the next Secretary of Defense, its members have been treated to the spectacle of the nominee spinning at the RPM of a prima ballerina.
Evidently, the former Nebraska senator has very low regard for those now serving in the Senate. He seems confident that they will either not see through - or at least not object to - his concerted efforts to: disavow his well-documented public record; obscure his serial, faulty judgments; and ignore the harm both suggest he is prepared to do, if confirmed, to the national security.
The question is: Will Mr. Hagel's cynical and contemptuous gambit be rewarded by the Senate? Or will it be properly repudiated?
For example, will the Armed Services Committee membership really accept Mr. Hagel's current insistence that he is a strong supporter of Israel when the evidence to the contrary is manifest from his plethora of votes, resolutions, letters, and public statements? Will Senators on and off that committee trust him to execute Obama administration policy towards Iran's nuclear threat - which their colleague, Sen. John Kerry, last week insisted was "prevention, not containment" - given his longstanding opposition to both meaningful economic sanctions and military action?
Can legislators who are alarmed at the hollowing-out of the U.S. military now becoming ever more palpable really take at face value Sen. Hagel's current assurances about his commitment to a strong U.S. military? After all, prior to his nomination by President Obama and his attendant "confirmation conversions," Mr. Hagel insisted that the Pentagon budget is bloated and can safely be "pared."
Now, Hillary Clinton might ask, "What's the difference?" Unfortunately, the difference could be a Secretary of Defense who will actively encourage, rather than steadfastly oppose, the devastation arising from: the elimination, or dramatic slowing, of virtually all Pentagon modernization programs; the reduction in maintenance of worn-out weapon systems and other equipment; the dissipation of much of what is left of the defense industrial base; the evisceration of training and other benefits, etc.
Then there is Senator Hagel's stance on nuclear disarmament. Last May, the would-be Defense Secretary affirmed his sympathy for arms control schemes that amount to prescriptions for unilateral reductions in our deterrent forces by co-authoring a plan for achieving them sponsored by the Global Zero initiative. In so doing, as Heritage Foundation fellow Rebecca Heinrich's has noted in the Daily Caller, he signed onto the fatuous idea that "security is mainly a state of mind, not a physical condition." He recommended that the United States eliminate two out of three "legs" of its strategic Triad. And he called for steep cuts in the short-range nuclear weapons that are the backbone of the "nuclear umbrella" our allies have long relied upon for extended deterrence. The effect would be to undermine global stability and exacerbate proliferation.
So, are Senators supposed to accept the line currently being touted by Chuck Hagel in one-on-one meetings with them and by his defenders in public to the effect that "he firmly believes in a strong nuclear deterrent as long as we face nuclear threats"? Should they actually accept that, for example, the nominee's "belief in a strong nuclear deterrent" is so firmly held that he will actually oppose President Obama's further efforts in a second term - in which he has "more flexibility" - to denuclearize the world starting with our arsenal? I have a bridge to sell any such credulous legislators.
How about a Secretary Hagel on what Hillary Clinton astonishingly described in her otherwise appallingly uninformative swan-song appearance on Capitol Hill last week: the menace posed to us and our allies by "the global jihadist threat." Never mind that Mrs. Clinton has done little, if anything, to evince such concern over the past four years - or, for that matter, during the preceding decade-plus she spent in the Senate and White House. In fact, along with President Obama's pick for the next CIA Director, John Brennan, and his new White House Chief of Staff, Dennis McDonough, she has been one of the prime-movers behind the administration's efforts to deny jihad's plain meaning, namely holy war, and to submit to at least its stealthy, subversive and pre-violent version as practiced by the Muslim Brotherhood.
No amount of spinning by Senator Hagel in anticipation of Thursday's hearing must be allowed to obscure his own, decades-long insistence that we must engage with the Islamists who are in the vanguard of that global jihadist threat. If this threat is real - and it is - Senators cannot responsibly turn over the Pentagon to someone so indifferent to it. This is a constitutional duty each and every member has, a duty that cannot be dispensed with, simply because Senator Chuck Schumer has predictably made his peace with the nominee.
In short, it will not be enough for the Armed Services Committee's members to expose the truth about Chuck Hagel's disposition on matters that speak to his competency as the senior civilian defense advisor to President Obama. They must also evaluate the implications of entrusting so sensitive a position to a man who holds them in such contempt at the very moment that Mr. Obama's international chickens are coming home to roost.