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White House Iran adviser describes Hagel testimony as “somewhere between baffling and incomprehensible”

The reviews are in for Chuck Hagel’s appearance before the Senate Armed Services Committee. If he were a Broadway play, as opposed to a mere nominee for Defense Secretary, Hagel would close after one performance.

The Obama administration was not amused. White House officials told CBS’ Major Garrett that they were disappointed with Hagel’s performance. Indeed, one Obama staffer described Hagel’s testimony on Iran as “somewhere between baffling and incomprehensible.”

This is an unusual reaction, to say the least. As veteran reporter Bob Schieffer noted, when a nominee comes under fire during a hearing, “the White House typically will come back and stoutly defend the guy.” But yesterday this White House “started leaking all these reports, they’re disappointed.” “I’ve never seen a White House react quite the way they did to this,” Schieffer added.

It’s not clear whether Team Obama is more concerned that the Hagel nomination is in trouble or that it is not. Surely, by now it has dawned on the administration that it has nominated a light weight to run the Defense Department. More importantly for this White House, it has become clear that Obama will be granted little slack the first time something goes wrong under the Hagel Pentagon’s watch. With Robert Gates and Leon Panetta, the White House had cover on defense matters. With Hagel it will have none.

Even Hagel’s pal and staunch supporter Steve Clemons expressed disappointment with Hagel’s performance. Focusing on the least of Hagel’s problems, Clemons told the Washington Post that he was surprised by the lack of charisma Hagel displayed during his testimony. He added that “Hagel, who can be hilarious, didn’t show much of that today.”

That depends on how you define hilarious.

But Clemons should not have been surprised by Hagel’s lack of intentional humor. It may well be that Hagel is a one-man laff riot when he’s speaking candidly about the Jewish lobby, neo-cons, and the like. But it’s a bit much to expect humor from a guy who is furiously walking back his prior colorful and controversial comments and trying like crazy (but without full success) not to blurt out new ones.

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