Hagel Hearing: Twilight of the Neocons Makes Senate Armed Services Committee Dysfunctional

The disgusting bullying of former Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE) during his hearing yesterday on his nomination to be Secretary of Defense is demonstrated clearly in the short clip above where Senator Lindsey Graham (R-Closet) asks Hagel to “Name one person, in your opinion, who’s been intimidated by the Israeli lobby.” Hagel said he couldn’t name one. A quick look at this word cloud from the hearing, though, or at this tweet from the Washington Post’s Rajiv Chandrasekaran: “At Hagel hearing, 136 mentions of Israel and 135 of Iran. Only 27 refs to Afghanistan. 2 for Al Qaida. 1 for Mali.” shows that Hagel should be at the top of the list of those intimidated by the Israeli lobby, which yesterday was embodied by the SASC.

Hagel did himself no favors when he stumbled badly on one of the few substantive and relevant topics brought up. On Iran’s nuclear program, even after being handed a note, he bungled the Obama administration’s position of prevention, stating first that the US favors containment. [His bungled statement of the Obama administration’s position should be considered separately from the logic of that position, where containment of an Iran with nuclear weapon capability is seen by some as a stabilizing factor against Israel’s nuclear capabilities, while prevention could well require a highly destabilizing war.]

Overall, however, the combative nature of Republican questioning of Hagel was just as hostile as the questioning last week of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton over the Benghazi incident. Why would Republicans turn on one of their own with a vengeance equal to that shown to their long-term nemesis? Writing at Huffington Post, Jon Soltz provides an explanation with which I agree when he frames yesterday’s hearing as a referendum on neocon policy (emphasis in original):

“Tell me I was right on Iraq!”

Essentially, that’s what Sen. McCain said during most of his time in today’s confirmation hearing for Chuck Hagel. And that sums up why the die had been cast on the Hagel nomination, before we even got to these hearings today, which I am currently at. This vote, I believed (and now believe more than ever) is a referendum on neocon policy, not on Chuck Hagel.

Much of McCain’s bullying of Hagel was centered on McCain trying to get Hagel to admit that he had been wrong to oppose the Iraq surge. This clinging to the absurd notion that the Iraq surge was a success sums up the bitter attitude of the neocons as the world slowly tries to emerge from the global damage they have caused. And that this view that the surge was a success still gets an open and unopposed position at the Senate Armed Services Committee highlights the dangerous dysfunction of one of the most influential groups in Washington.

A functional SASC would have spent much time in discussion with Lt. Col. Daniel Davis, who provided a meticulous debunking of the myth that the Iraq surge was a success. His report, however, has been quietly ignored and allowed to fade from public view. Instead, this committee has essentially abandoned its oversight responsibilities in favor of pro-war jingoism. That Hagel refuses to engage in their jingoism is at the heart of neocon hatred of him.

Hagel would have done himself and the world a favor by turning the tables on the Committee during the hearing. A report (pdf) released Wednesday by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction highlights a massive oversight failure by the Senate Armed Services Committee that lies at the juxtaposition of US defense policy in both Iran and Afghanistan. Despite long-standing sanctions against US purchases of Iranian goods, the Committee has allowed the Department of Defense to purchase fuel for use in Afghanistan that could well have come from Iran. Here is the conclusion of the report (emphasis added):

DOD’s lack of visibility—until recently—over the source of fuel purchased for the ANSF raises some concerns. DOD lacked certification procedures prior to November 2012 and had limited visibility over the import and delivery sub-contracts used by fuel vendors. As a result, DOD is unable to determine if any of the $1.1 billion in fuel purchased for the ANA between fiscal year 2007 and 2012 came from Iran, in violation of U.S. economic sanctions. Controls—recently added by CJTSCC to the BPAs for ANSF fuel—requiring vendor certification of fuel sources should improve visibility over fuel sources. To enhance that visibility, it is important that adequate measures are in place to test the validity of the certifications and ensure that subcontractors are abiding by the prohibitions regarding Iranian fuel. Recently reported steps to correct weaknesses in the fuel acquisition process may not help U.S. officials’ in verifying the sources of fuel purchased with U.S. funds for the ANSF. Given the Afghan government’s continued challenges in overseeing and expending direct assistance funds, it will become more difficult for DOD to account for the use of U.S. funds as it begins to transfer funds—in March 2013—directly to the Afghan government for the procurement and delivery of ANSF fuel. In light of capacity and import limitations of the Afghan government, the U.S. government may need to take steps to place safeguards on its direct assistance funding—over $1 billion alone for ANSF fuel from 2013-2018—to ensure that the Afghan government does not use the funds in violation of U.S. economic sanctions.

Imagine the sputtering that would have ensued if Hagel had managed to ask Graham or McCain why the committee had failed to enforce the sanctions against purchasing Iranian fuel by the Defense Department. While he was busy singing “Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran” on the campaign trail in 2008, McCain was failing in his responsibility to see that Iranian fuel wasn’t purchased by the Defense Department.

Many years ago, Jim got a BA in Radiation Biophysics from the University of Kansas. He then got a PhD in Molecular Biology from UCLA and did postdoctoral research in yeast genetics at UC Berkeley and mouse retroviruses at Stanford. He joined biosys in Palo Alto, producing insect parasitic nematodes for pest control. In the early 1990’s, he moved to Gainesville, FL and founded a company that eventually became Entomos. He left the firm as it reorganized into Pasteuria Biosciences and chose not to found a new firm due a clash of values with venture capital investors, who generally lack all values. Upon leaving, he chose to be a stay at home dad, gentleman farmer, cook and horse wrangler. He discovered the online world through commenting at Glenn Greenwald’s blog in the Salon days and was involved in the briefly successful Chris Dodd move to block the bill to renew FISA. He then went on to blog at Firedoglake and served a brief stint as evening editor there. When the Emptywheel blog moved out of Firedoglake back to standalone status, Jim tagged along and blogged on anthrax, viruses, John Galt, Pakistan and Afghanistan. He is now a mostly lapsed blogger looking for a work-around to the depressing realization that pointing out the details of government malfeasance and elite immunity has approximately zero effect.
11 replies
  1. emptywheel says:

    Of course, it’s not clear Hagel will be any more successful in Afghanistan.

    But yeah, it was ugly yesterday. Ted Cruz, in particular.

  2. Jim White says:

    @emptywheel: I decided just to ignore Cruz. Putting out the list of Israeli war crimes would have made the post entirely too long and he’s a newcomer so not related to the massive oversight failure.

  3. TheraP says:

    Thank you for calling out the bullying yesterday! McCain’s behavior made me think that he learned well – from his North Vietnamese interrogators.

    I also thought how incongruous the republican inquisitors looked yesterday – in contrast to the “new” PR campaign of the GOP – to look warm and fuzzy, so as to attract newcomers.

  4. DonS says:

    The post notes: “The disgusting bullying of former Senator Chuck Hagel (. . . where Senator Lindsey Graham (R-Closet) asks Hagel to “Name one person, in your opinion, who’s been intimidated by the Israeli lobby.” . . . A quick look at this word cloud from the hearing . . . 136 mentions of Israel and 135 of Iran. Only 27 refs to Afghanistan. 2 for Al Qaida. 1 for Mali.” shows that Hagel should be at the top of the list of those intimidated by the Israeli lobby, which yesterday was embodied by the SASC.”

    This is cross posted from something I put on Steve Clemons blog:

    So now that Israel has apparently done an air attack within Syria, we can probably expect a question on that. Besides attempting to pillory Hagel, because I doubt he will be willing to venture an opinion, the interesting thing we’ll see the Israel wag the Senate dog on display in real time. More interesting will be that the entire press corps will be oblivious.

  5. Ben Franklin says:

    At least Huckleberry and McCain showed the appropriate shame when Hagel talked about the 1500 military who died during the Surge. The little bubble they live in was burst for a short while.

  6. hester says:

    O.T.

    I love lurking here. The little things that put a smile on my face: e.g. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-Closet).
    Lol, thanks

  7. joanneleon says:

    @DonS: Exactly.
    “…shows that Hagel should be at the top of the list of those intimidated by the Israeli lobby, which yesterday was embodied by the SASC.””

    What’s the word for that? Ironic? Surreal? Orwellian? I watched that hearing almost all day yesterday and I was running out of adjectives (and expletives).

    I wasn’t a very strong supporter of Hagel. Maybe it’s more accurate to say that I was (and still am) conflicted. He’s a hell of a lot better than some others who might have been selected though. But McCain, Graham and Cruz probably had the opposite of intended effect after that hearing. I ended up supporting him more after their douchebaggery than before the hearing started. Judging by the C-SPAN calls during the break, I don’t think I was the only one.

    Also, it seemed like some of those guys came there with their typed up talking points that someone had given to them. (e.g. Vitter, Cruz)

    You know it’s one freaking weird hearing when I’m finding Jeff Sessions to be nice and respectful compared to his colleagues.

  8. DonS says:

    @joanneleon:

    The quoted portion you copied is from Jim White’s main post; my snipping was probably confusing.

    On your points: yes, some of these hearing are exactly scripted kabuki, for the TV, and the Cong Record. I remember watching many such performances, that some still consider a darling artifact of the American system, in the past when I still had alot more faith in the relevance of Congress than I do today. Now I’m not interested in pulling for team A or team B.

    Jeff Sessions: I guess I’ve heard to that, despite his basic throwback politics, he is civil.

    Hagel: Nor am I a fan of his. The best I could find in him was his apparent unwillingness to genuflect to Israel at every turn, though his voting record probably doesn’t speak so much to that as his oft quoted comments. But, I expect, any such predilection for actual independence as may exist, will be checked at the door of the Pentagon, and he will be re-initiated into the US-Israeli kabuki posthaste — probably his limited marching orders in that regard have already been made amply clear. It would be wonderful to think he will be a staunch advocate for a smaller US footprint around the globe. But it’d be wonderful think I would find a sack of golden eagle coins outside my door, too.

  9. GulfCoastPirate says:

    That was a disgusting hearing. My wish is that one day someone gets nominated for a similar position and when the McCain’s, Cruz’s and Graham’s of the world get up and start their crap the nominee just walks over and punches their fucking lights out.

    As a native born Texan I’m embarrassed by Cruz. What would Jean Lafitte say?

  10. GKJames says:

    I don’t disagree with anything said here, but reference to “bullying” suggests that Hagel’s a shrinking violet who can’t defend himself, which is hardly the case. What his responses at the hearing do suggest, however, is a lack of preparation, which is odd given that the signals from the lunatic part of the spectrum have been clear since word of the nomination got out. Every one of the loons is neck-deep in incompetence and a myopic worldview; surely a well-placed blade between the ribs (rhetorically speaking, of course…) to point out that fact wouldn’t have been beyond the competence of a research department. When in a battle of wits with unarmed opponents, bemused detachment alternating with pointed ripostes are the only viable response.

    What little value the hearings do offer lies in highlighting the desperate need for a pointed conversation with the people of Arizona, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Texas for continuing to inflict buffoons like McCain, Graham, et al on the rest of (what’s left of) the republic.

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