I wrote here about an incident that occurred when Secretary of Defense Hagel spoke at the University of Nebraska. After his prepared remarks, when calling on a questioner, Hagel said, “you’re not a member of the Taliban, are you?” Robin Gandhi, an assistant professor who is of Indian national origin, then asked a question.
Hagel’s camp claims, however, that Prof. Gandhi was not the target of the Secretary’s Taliban joke. According to George Little, Hagel’s spokesman:
Following a question related to the Taliban, the Secretary made an off-the-cuff joke before the next questioner was called or selected at an appearance at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Absolutely no slight toward any individual in the audience was intended. That’s the last thing the Secretary would do under any circumstance, in this or any other setting. He didn’t know who would be called next to pose a question.
This explanation doesn’t square with the video (see below). It shows that following a question about the Taliban, Hagel said, “OK, so who has a — way up in the back there; you’re not a member of the Taliban are you…”
Thus, Hagel wasn’t waiting for the next questioner to be called on or selected. He was calling on/selecting the next questioner — a person “way up in the back there” where Gandhi was waiting to ask a question. The claim that Hagel “didn’t know who would be called next” seems absurd, as it is Hagel who appears to be doing the “calling.”
Moreover, Hagel clearly was directing his Taliban remark at a particular person. If it wasn’t the person he was calling on, who was it? To my knowledge, Team Hagel hasn’t said.
But an AP reporter sitting near Gandhi insists that Hagel directed the Taliban remark at her. Margery Beck told Fox News that she raised her hand to ask a question and Hagel then called on her and made the Taliban reference. After an employee controlling the audience microphone instructed Beck that no questions from the press were allowed, Gandhi, sitting a few seats away, was allowed to ask his question.
Note that this explanation conflicts with that of Hagel’s spokesman. In Beck’s account, Hagel knew who he was calling on to ask the question — Beck. Presumably, the Hagel camp meant to say that Hagel didn’t know that Gandhi would end up asking the next question.
That’s possible, I suppose. The video shows a slight delay between Hagel’s remark and Gandhi’s question. Maybe during that time, events transpired as Beck recounts them.
But why would Hagel ask Beck if she’s a member of the Taliban? Does she look like someone from that part of the world (I haven’t found a picture of her — perhaps there’s one available on social media, but I’m not on social media).
If so, the remark involves mindless stereotyping, just as it would if directed at Gandhi. If not, the remark, if anything, makes even less sense.
So even if I were to accept Beck’s account of events, I would stand by the conclusion I reached in my initial post: “The selection of a fool like Hagel to run the Pentagon tells us all we need to know about the seriousness with which President Obama takes maintaining a defense adequate to protect of our country.”
Here is the video: