Chuck Hagel got into a testy verbal sparring match with John McCain at his Armed Services Committee hearing today, with McCain demanding that Hagel admit he was wrong when he warned against the "surge" in Iraq. Hagel tried to prevaricate: "I would defer to the judgment of history," he ventured, but McCain wouldn't let him finish. "I want to know if you were right or wrong, that's a direct question," he insisted. "I'm not going to give you a yes or no answer," Hagel replied. "I think it's far more complicated than that."
"I think history has already made a judgment about the surge, sir, and you're on the wrong side of it," McCain added. Hagel went on to explain that he was still not sure the surge was worth the American lives lost. "I always ask myself the question, is this going to be worth the sacrifice?" Other highlights from the hearing:
- Ranking Republican Jim Inhofe went after Hagel immediately, in what the New York Times describes as "aggressive but at times disjointed questioning." Why, Inhofe asked, does the Iranian Foreign Ministry support Hagel's nomination? "I have a difficult time enough with American politics," Hagel replied. "I have no idea."
- Chairman Carl Levin expressed concerns about Hagel's "troubling" statements about Israel, but added that Hagel was a "person of integrity."
- Hagel made one noticeable slip-up, saying at one point that he supported the president's policy of "containment" of Iran. Someone hastily passed him a note, and he changed his tune. "Obviously, we don't have a position on containment," he said. Levin interjected that the US does have a position, "which is we do not favor containment."
- Hagel's opening statement, which you can read here, hewed closely to the views of his predecessor, expressing a steadfast dedication to Israel, concern about impending sequestration budget cuts, and support for equal benefits for gay troops. The Washington Post has video of it here.