Published DateTo the editor,
On Thursday, Jan. 31, the Senate Armed Services Committee questioned President Obama's nominee to be Secretary of Defense, former Nebraska senator Chuck Hagel. It was uncomfortable to watch, embarrassing to think the world was watching and an unambiguous reminder politics and demagoguery have obliterated all pretense of pragmatic patriotism.
Pundits, partisans and many in the press were totally predictable in their analyses and reporting.
Supporters of the president zeroed in on the vicious (often boorish) questioning from Republican senators, especially Ted Cruz of Texas, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John McCain of Arizona. They excused, defended, even mischaracterized the lackluster, repeatedly incomprehensive testimony from the nominee. One pundit in characterizing Mr. Hagel's testimony went so far as to say, "Senator Hagel is obviously a military intellectual."
Opponents concluded inept testimony was proof of incompetence. They latched onto the nominee's failure to refute the demagoguery, insisting his unwillingness to tout sound bites or recite doctrine was proof of sedition. He, they scarily concluded, would push to unilaterally dismantle America's nuclear arsenal, abandon Israel and allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons.
While Republicans on the committee used their questions to promote absurd interpretations of the nominee's public utterances, the Democrats fed the nominee cotton candy and marshmallows. Their strategy — beyond cowardice — was obvious: Give conservative Democrats and moderate Republicans no reason to withhold their vote for confirmation.
The absence of substance was overwhelming.
Given all the demagoguery about the nominee's voting record and public utterances, committee members did little if anything to ferret out Mr. Hagel's positions and possible behaviors on important points of contention. Neither the Senate nor the American people learned anything new about Mr. Hagel's positions — and possible recommendations to the president — on such issues as:
— Developing policy for interacting with Iran, Israel or the Palestinians;
— Managing our nuclear arsenal;
— Applying military force to police the globe;
— Ensuring our ability to pursue the "War on Terror" in multiple theaters;
— Reducing suicides, rapes, mental illness and other adversities associated with contemporary wartime service;
— Updating military ethics in the era of drones, robotic warfare and other developing technologies;
— Restricting or advancing the participation of gay Americans in the military and military support services;
— Integrating females warriors into the front lines; or
— Evolving the military posture in the "pivot to Asia."
Overall, Thursday, Jan. 31, was a great day to be Canadian or French.