Hagel Struggles Through the Obvious Questions

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Jan. 31 2013 12:12 PM

Hagel Struggles Through the Obvious Questions: The Surge, The Jews, Iran

I credit another reporter, from the Financial Times, for clueing me in on how poorly Chuck Hagel was handling key questions in his hearing. During an exchange on Iran, as he described the administration policy that was now his policy, Hagel referred to "containment."

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics

"Did he mean to say 'containment?'" whispered the reporter. "Did he mean 'prevention?'"

He did. Shortly therafter, Hagel was handed a note, and told the committee he needed to amend his prior answer. "The administration does not have a position on containment," he said.


"The administration does have a position on containment," added Sen. Carl Levin, helpfully. "It is against it."

It was the most glaring stumble in Hagel's morning of inquisition, but it wasn't alone. There's no reason to judge televised hearings as theater, but several times, Hagel was faced with questions that had been litigated in the press, and meandered through them awkwardly. He explained votes on Iran as prudent decisions from a different time, and place, then called the regime an "elected, legitimate government, whether we agree or not." It was in line with his philosophy, but it was a finger-in-the-eye way to put it. When Sen. Roger Wicker (a decided "no" vote) asked Hagel about his "Jewish lobby" quote, which everybody was expecting, Hagel gave a slow, uhhh-soaked three-part answer about how he should have said "Israeli" instead of "Jewish," said "influence" not "intimidate," and never called anybody "stupid."

That went worse than the buzziest story of the morning—the confrontaiton with John McCain. The Arizona senator, who started to break with Hagel during the 2006-2007 buildup to the Iraq surge, simply refused to let that issue go.

"I want to know if you were right or wrong," said McCain.

"I would like to..." started Hagel.

"Are you going to answer the question?" asked McCain.

"It's going to be the judgment of history," said Hagel.

"History has made its judgment," said McCain, "and you are on wrong side of it."

Hagel had given countless interviews and speeches about the surge, some of them after it ended, answering the question of whether the extra troops were responsible for a 2007 drop-off in violence, or whether other factors were responsible. Instead, he referred to "1,200 dead Americans' lives" as the factor in his opposition.

David Weigel is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics


The World

The Budget Disaster that Sabotaged the WHO’s Response to Ebola

Are the Attacks in Canada a Sign of ISIS on the Rise in the West?

PowerPoint Is the Worst, and Now It’s the Latest Way to Hack Into Your Computer

Is It Offensive When Kids Use Bad Words for Good Causes?

Fascinating Maps Based on Reddit, Craigslist, and OkCupid Data


The Real Secret of Serial

What reporter Sarah Koenig actually believes.


The Actual World

“Mount Thoreau” and the naming of things in the wilderness.

In Praise of 13th Grade: Why a Fifth Year of High School Is a Great Idea

A Comically Inane Court Opinion Just Upheld Puerto Rico’s Gay Marriage Ban

  News & Politics
Oct. 23 2014 3:55 PM Panda Sluggers Democrats are in trouble. Time to bash China.
Oct. 23 2014 5:53 PM Amazon Investors Suddenly Bearish on Losing Money
Oct. 23 2014 5:08 PM Why Is an Obscure 1968 Documentary in the Opening Credits of Transparent?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 23 2014 11:33 AM Watch Little Princesses Curse for the Feminist Cause
  Slate Plus
Oct. 23 2014 11:28 AM Slate’s Working Podcast: Episode 2 Transcript Read what David Plotz asked Dr. Meri Kolbrener about her workday.
Oct. 23 2014 6:07 PM Devil in a Trenchcoat Will the new NBC series bring Constantine into the mainstream, or ruin the character forever?
Future Tense
Oct. 23 2014 5:53 PM South Florida’s Desperate Secession Movement
  Health & Science
Oct. 23 2014 5:42 PM Seriously, Evolution: WTF? Why I love the most awkward, absurd, hacked-together species.
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.