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Keep Talking, Senators: Of Filibusters and Chuck Hagel

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Not since the eminently forgettable and now justly forgotten Louis A. Johnson was chosen to dismantle the country's military budget after the Second World War -- just in time to leave this country woefully unprepared for the Korean one -- has a nominee for secretary of defense represented so clear and present a danger to the national security.


This time his name is Chuck Hagel, a former senator of shifting convictions about the country's defense, much of whose political career has been devoted to undermining that defense -- when he wasn't using high office to peddle low prejudices. Like the dangers of "ostentatious" homosexuals in the Foreign Service, or a Jewish conspiracy dominating American politics. Such is the man this president has chosen to protect the nation's security, God help us all.

Thanks to those far-sighted statesmen who gave us the Constitution of the United States -- "the most wonderful work ever struck off at a given time by the brain and purpose of man," to quote Gladstone -- the American system is replete with protections for the political minority, which needs all the protection it can get. There are numberless such safeguards, from the Bill of Rights in the Constitution itself to unlimited debate in the Senate of the United States, also known as the filibuster.

No doubt many of those protections have been abused to thwart the will of the majority. But there comes a time when the will of the majority very much needs thwarting. As when a heedless majority is about to make not just a bad but a dangerous decision by a party-line vote. A time like now.

For a handy summation of the many good reasons to block the nomination of Charles Hagel as the country's next secretary of defense, nothing can beat the transcript of his confirmation hearings, which amounted to one embarrassing debacle after another for the nominee. There were so many it is impossible to detail them all in a single column.


To cite one: This is a senator who supported going to war in Iraq, complete with beating drums and blaring bugles. But when the outlook turned bleak there, and our troops needed all the support they could get on the home front, Senator Hagel sounded retreat -- indeed, surrender.

At that decisive point, Senator Hagel not only opposed but denounced the Surge that would save the day, not to mention a war, a country and the prospects for freedom in the most turbulent and dangerous part of the globe. The moral of this story: On him you shouldn't count. Especially as secretary of defense.

Other examples of Chuck Hagel's comprehensive lack of qualifications for any position of responsibility in the Department of Defense, let alone head of it, abound. The man even voted against designating the Revolutionary Guards, Iran's terrorist spearhead, as a terrorist organization. That was in 2007, when the Guards were still flooding Iraq with the IEDs used to kill American GIs.

Of all the former senator's grave misjudgments and petty prejudices on display during his day-long disaster called confirmation hearings, two exchanges stand out.

The first came when John McCain, still defending freedom after all these years, pressed the nominee to admit an obvious fact: The Surge had worked. And he'd been wrong, dead wrong, not just to oppose it but to denounce it -- in the strongest terms -- and predict it would never work.


After a game try at evading Senator McCain's persistent questions about the Surge and his blind opposition to it, Chuck Hagel finally said he would "defer that judgment to history" -- an elevated way of dodging the whole issue.

To which Senator McCain, in a revealing moment and decisive verdict, responded: "I think history has already made a judgment about the Surge, sir, and you're on the wrong side of it." Q.E.D.

The other revelation came during Mr. Hagel's colloquy with Lindsey Graham, the senator from South Carolina, who with John McCain and Joe Lieberman has never wavered in his support of our troops and their cause. That interchange deserves quoting in full:

Senator Graham: Let us talk a little bit about statements you've made. You've explained this a bit. You said, 'The Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here. I'm not an Israeli senator, I'm a United States senator. This pressure makes us do dumb things at times.' ... Name one person in your opinion who's intimidated by the Israeli lobby in the United States Senate.

Mr. Hagel: Well, first --

Graham: Name one.

Hagel: I don't know.

Graham: Well, why would you say it?

Hagel: I didn't have in mind a specific--

Graham: Do you agree it's a provocative statement? That I can't think of a more provocative thing to say about the relationship between the United States and Israel and the Senate or the Congress than what you said? Name one dumb thing we've been goaded into doing because of the pressure from the Israeli or Jewish lobby.


Hagel: I have already stated that I regret the terminology I used.

Graham: But you said back then, 'it makes us do dumb things.' You can't name one senator intimidated. Now give me one example of the dumb things that we are pressured to do up here.

Hagel: We were talking in that interview about the Middle East, about positions, about Israel, that's what I was referring to.

Graham: So give me an example of where we have been intimidated by the Israeli/Jewish lobby to do something dumb regarding the Mideast, Israel or anywhere else.

Hagel: Well, I can't give you an example.

Graham: Thank you.

Case closed.

Nothing his critics can say about having Chuck Hagel as the next secretary of defense can be as damning as his own baseless words. Or his silence when asked to back them up. A silence that speaks volumes.

Chuck Hagel's qualifications for the post he so ardently seeks begin with his sterling war record. Unfortunately, that's where they end.

The man is a disaster waiting to happen at Defense -- think Benghazis galore. Happily, the Senate chose to delay Mr. Hagel's nomination by a vote of 58 to 40 last week, a couple of votes short of the 60 required to end a filibuster.

Having won a brief reprieve from this nominee's confirmation, senators like John McCain and Lindsey Graham and the rest of this political minority need to keep fightin'. And keep talking.


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