Unspinnable: White House "disappointed" in Hagel's performance at hearing

There is a way to spin it, actually. You could throw a tantrum over how mean Republicans were to poor Chuck, like Chris Matthews did. But evidently, and uncharacteristically, the White House isn’t going that route. Why not? They’ll never admit that Hagel was a terrible choice by yanking the nomination; there’s also no evidence that Senate Democrats are turning against him. When asked after the hearing yesterday how he thought Hagel did, Carl Levin somehow summoned the courage to say “good job.” If they’re willing to vote for a guy who believes idiocy like this, they’re not going to torpedo him for having a bad day at the microphone:

In his 2008 book, “America: Our Next Chapter,” Hagel wrote that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict “cannot be looked at in isolation. Like a stone dropped into a placid lake, its ripples extend out farther and farther. Egypt, Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon feel the effects most noticeably. Farther still, Afghanistan and Pakistan; anything that impacts their political stability also affects the two emerging economic superpowers, India and China.”…

Come with me on a quick tour of the greater Middle East. The Syrian civil war? Unrelated to the Palestinian-Israeli peace process. The slow disintegration of Yemen? Unrelated. Chaos and violence in Libya? Unrelated. Chaos and fundamentalism in Egypt? The creation of a Palestinian state on the West Bank would not have stopped the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak, nor would it have stopped the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood. Terrorism in Algeria? Unrelated. The Iranian nuclear program? How would the creation of a Palestinian state have persuaded the Iranian regime to cease its pursuit of nuclear weapons? Someone please explain. Sunni-Shiite civil war in Iraq? The unrest in Bahrain? Pakistani havens for al-Qaeda affiliates? All unrelated.

Why does this matter? Because our leaders should have a realistic — as opposed to a “realist” — understanding of the root causes of Middle East strife. How can they protect us from threats if they don’t understand the causes of these threats?

If Hagel’s not losing votes (as far as we know) and he’s not going to withdraw, what purpose does it serve for the White House to say it’s disappointed in him? Are they signaling to Senate Dems that they’re now free to vote against him if they wish? But why would they do that when they know most of the public either won’t care or won’t remember on election day what happened yesterday? It’s inexplicable.

Here’s the CBS crew ruminating over it, followed by the RNC’s 80-second edit of the hearing’s lowlights. In hindsight, I think Republicans missed an opportunity to do much greater damage to him. Graham’s interrogation was fun and well deserved, and McCain’s points about the surge are fine, but all of that will be dismissed by liberals as grandstanding. The only line of questioning that would have resonated across party lines is one delving into detail about how little he knows of the Pentagon and how it operates. There was a rich vein of ignorance to be tapped there, but for the most part it wasn’t. Unfortunate.