Senate hearings on Hagel were a disgrace

After the Senate hearings Thursday on President Obama’s nomination of former Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense, several important points need to be made.

First, as far as Sen. Hagel is concerned, he does not have the kind of record that progressives conclude will make him a Secretary of Defense who would chart the entirely new foreign policy direction the times require. He does, however, represent the more sober elements who have called in our national discourse for rejection of the old cold war tactics, the unilateralism and the continual push for wars all over the world.

The main issue at yesterday’s hearings however, was not Hagel himself. It was the performance of the U.S. Senate.

If you accept much of the national media’s interpretation, you’d think that the main features of the hearing were brutal verbal attacks on Hagel by three or four GOP Senate ringleaders and that Hagel wasn’t coached enough for his “performance.” You’d have the feeling that the nomination itself could be in trouble.

The confirmation hearings, in truth, said very little about the qualifications of Chuck Hagel’s for the position of Secretary of Defense. They spoke volumes, however, about the disgraceful inadequacy of the U.S. Senate as an institution to be trusted, under our constitution, with gathering information on whether presidential Cabinet nominees deserve to be confirmed.

Much of the Senate’s inadequacy is reflected in what the senators failed to ask the nominee.

There is a hot war raging at the moment in Afghanistan. Americans are dying and Afghans are dying. The war is consuming billions of our hard-earned tax dollars. There were no questions from the senators about how the war will be wound down, how many U.S. troops might be left there or whether the war itself was justifiable from any point of view.

The United Nations has launched an investigation into the U.S. use of drones, which have been resulting in mounting civilian casualties. None of the senators asked about these.

You would think, if you watched the hearings, that the GOP deficit hawks had suddenly been struck speechless on matters of money. None of them asked about cutting the Pentagon budget, something that would shrink the deficit and allow America to do some nation-building here at home.

Conduct of the war in Afghanistan and cutting the defense budget are two things Sen. Hagel will have much to say about if his nomination is confirmed.

Instead, senators focused on matters that Hagel is powerless to change.

Led by Sen. John McCain, the neocons tried to force Hagel to disavow his opposition to what they call the “successful” surges in Iraq and Afghanistan. They chastised and tried to embarrass Hagel over his opposition to George W. Bush’s surge in Iraq. It was as if they didn’t realize that the overwhelming majority of Americans think the entire war in Iraq was a policy blunder and that many Americans consider ending the war in Iraq to be President Obama’s most important first-term accomplishment.

What the neocon senators were trying to do, in reality, is rewrite the history of the Iraq war – from the terrible disaster it actually was into some type of success story. It was shameful behavior for a handful of GOP senators whose war policies have already been rejected by the American people.

Republicans are in a position to sandbag the nomination, as they have sandbagged so much of President Obama’s agenda. They could filibuster the nomination, meaning that Hagel would need 60, rather than 51 votes for confirmation.

It was the U.S. Senate, not President Obama’s nominee, Chuck Hagel, that fell down on the job at the hearings. It was allowed to become a place for right-wing grandstanding and unacceptable efforts to rewrite history.

Photo: U.S. soldiers board a U.S. military plane, as they leave Afghanistan, at the U.S. base in Bagram north of Kabul. Musadeq Sade/AP


John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward and a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee. In the 1970s and '80s, he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.