On Iran, Hagel could have told his GOP tormenters that, yes, “all options should be on the table,” but reminded them that “all options” means not merely military force, but also the pursuit of a diplomatic deal. And he could have explained that just because we reserve the right to take military action does not mean we should ignore the numerous former military and intelligence officials, in both America and Israel, who warn that military action could produce a horrific regional war, strengthen the Iranian regime and ultimately make an Iranian nuclear weapon more likely, not less.

Finally, when asked to provide evidence for his claim that the “Jewish lobby” intimidates members of Congress, Hagel could have pointed to the hearings themselves. If the senators questioning Hagel weren’t interested in staying on AIPAC’s good side, would the hearings really have featured 136 mentions of Israel, 135 of Iran and only 27 references to Afghanistan, the country where the United States is currently at war? And instead of robotically restating his love of the Jewish state, Hagel could have said what many Israeli top security officials do: that Israel’s policy of subsidizing West Bank settlement causes immense Palestinian suffering and existentially threatens the Jewish state, and that ignoring that fact does Israel no favors…

But that Chuck Hagel didn’t come through yesterday because instead of speaking from the gut, he said what he thought other politicians wanted to hear. That strategy failed because right-wingers like McCain, Graham and Cruz saw Hagel’s ideological incoherence and smelled his political fear. And it failed because Hagel shouldn’t have been speaking to the armed services committee. He should have been speaking over them, to the majority of Americans who voted for Obama, twice, in part because they want a leader who will break with the foreign policy thinking that has brought us a decade of endless war.