The Hagel hearing, Part Three (Sen. Wicker gently takes Hagel to the woodshed)

Sen. McCaskill (the luckiest politician in America) is asking a laundry list of questions to enable Hagel to state his support for preventing Iran from obtaining nukes, keeping the military strong, baseball, and apple pie. These questions are meaningless, of course, without a discussion of Hagel’s past votes and statements.

So far, Hagel is zero for two in answering targeted questions (those of McCain and Sessions) that focus on his past votes and statements.

Hagel says that when you’re at war, the number one focus is protecting your people. I always thought it was defeating the enemy, but what do I know?

Sen. Chambliss is focusing on Iran, which he says (quite reasonably) is the key issue in the hearings. Chambliss wants to know why Hagel didn’t vote to designate the Iranian Revolutionary Guards a terrorist organization. He also wants to know about “red lines” and why we should have a dialogue with Iran, a terrorist state.

As to the vote, Hagel starts weakly by saying that there were 22 votes against it. He hides behind Sen. Webb, who opposed the resolution on the grounds that the U.S. has never designated a part of a legitimate (Hagel’s word) government as a terrorist organization. Doing so, says Hagel, is tantamount to authorizing the president to go to war with Iran. Hagel also notes that Joe Biden and John Kerry voted against this resolution and that Obama didn’t vote (if I heard correctly).

Hagel doesn’t bother to defend the view that designating the IRG a terrorist organization would authorize the president to go to war. All he says is that “you can agree or disagree” about this, but he was persuaded. As in his responses to McCain, Hagel doesn’t seem to think it matters whether his votes were good votes or not — it’s enough to have had reasons for voting as he did.

On red lines, Hagel doesn’t want them. He thinks it’s enough that Obama has said he “has Israel’s back.” I suspect this statement impresses Iran even less than it impresses Israel.

Sen. Wicker reminds Hagel that he has said he doesn’t support unilateral sanctions against Iran because they don’t work and isolate the U.S. He notes that this statement flatly contradicts a statement he made soon thereafter in a letter to Sen. Boxer. Wicker tells Hagel that people need to be able to rely on the word of the Secretary of Defense. Hagel’s word doesn’t seem to be worth much.

Wicker also focuses on Hagel’s statement about the “Jewish lobby.” Although Hagel has retracted the term, Wicker wants to know whether he still believes the Israeli lobby “intimidates” people into doing “dumb things” to the detriment of U.S. policy. He also asks Hagel which groups are part of the Jewish lobby.

Hagel responds, self-servingly, that he doesn’t take positions based on political expediency. But how, then, does he explain his contradictory positions on sanctions? Hagel can’t answer this. Wicker gently asks whether Hagel is saying that the two statements he quoted about unilateral sanctions aren’t inconsistent. Hagel ducks the question.

Hagel says he didn’t really mean that the pro-Israel lobby intimidates people, but rather that it “influences” people. This doesn’t pass the straight-face test. Hagel must be flat out lying here.

Hagel also recants on the term “dumb things,” saying he shouldn’t have used that term. If Hagel made this many miscues in a single set of responses in an interview, he has no business holding a posiiton like Secretary of Defense. But, of course, they weren’t miscues at all — they are a true reflection of Hagel’s contempt for Israel’s Jewish supporters.