How do you know a nominee is in trouble? Well, when reliable White House apologists on Sunday morning talk shows call him “unimpressive and unprepared,” it’s not exactly a good sign. Robert Gibbs dismissed the rough treatment John McCain gave Chuck Hagel as a grudge match, but admitted that watching Hagel fumble his way through obvious questions didn’t exactly instill a great sense of confidence in this appointment (via Mediaite):
“The disconcerting thing, obviously, for anybody that watched it was he seemed unimpressive and unprepared on the questions that, quite frankly, he knew was coming,” Gibbs said.
Gibbs continued to argue, though, that Hagel was ready to be Defense Secretary, but Gibbs didn’t offer any real qualifications that Hagel has to make that point. Instead, Gibbs goes on about how Tim Geithner gave a bad speech three weeks into his term as Treasury Secretary but ended up being a great appointment. The difference is that no one doubted Geithner’s experience and qualifications before his confirmation — they doubted whether a candidate that couldn’t pay his own taxes properly should head the IRS, among other agencies at Treasury.
Dorothy Rabinowitz is less merciful in the Wall Street Journal:
It shouldn’t have been surprising that the Senate hearings to confirm Chuck Hagel as the next secretary of defense ended up shedding light on much more than this nominee and his qualifications. The trumpets had sounded long in advance on the main claim for Mr. Hagel—i.e., that his experience as an enlisted man, a combat veteran, had endowed him with special expertise not given to others, on matters of war, on our nuclear capacity, the size of our defense budget, a capacity to take the measure of Iran and North Korea.
Mr. Hagel had come by this wisdom, we were informed, because he had been at the front, seen men die, and knew, as we were frequently reminded, what the ordinary soldier thought and felt. All of this, the argument ran, gave him a unique capacity to head the Defense Department.
Could rational men and women seriously credit such a claim? The credential has been touted even by Mr. Hagel’s devout partisans on the left, delirious over the prospect of so conspicuous a voice of antiwar sentiment as secretary of defense. And of course by the president who chose, by this nomination, to make the dreams of those cadres come true.
The same argument was made for Mr. Hagel in the confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, though it would come less and less often as events took a decidedly disastrous turn for the nominee. Here was an affair sizzling with exchanges that seemed to come straight from a skillful Hollywood script of the old school—the kind whose most improbable scenes feel like gut-wrenching reality. …
Matters didn’t improve when Mr. Hagel announced, regarding Iran’s nuclear capacity, that he supported the president’s strong position on “containment.” But the administration’s policy is not, as Mr. Hagel apparently had yet to learn, containment—it is to prevent Iran’s development of nuclear arms.
Nudged by a note handed him by an aide, the nominee corrected himself and declared that in fact the U.S. doesn’t have a policy on containment. This was one misstatement too many for Carl Levin—the committee chairman, a Democrat and supporter of Mr. Hagel’s nomination—who ended the discussion with his own terse correction: “We do have a position on containment, and that is we do not favor containment.”
Rabinowitz doesn’t even mention the worst answer Hagel gave — his admission that he knows little about the Defense Department or the systems and bureaucracies within it. The bizarre spectacle left everyone wondering why Obama decided to pick someone so obviously unprepared — and obviously unwilling to prepare even when given the chance. That’s “disconcerting,” certainly, and should have everyone in the Senate asking whether “advise and consent” should amount to “advise and dissent” in Hagel’s case.