Chuck Hegel was interrogated by the Senate Armed Services Committee prior to their deciding whether or not to confirm him as Secretary of Defense. Now we have some idea as to what it was like to be questioned by the Inquisition.
Hegel is the first cabinet nominee in history to have his confirmation hearing preceded by smear and attack ads on television, ads paid for by anonymous donors. The New York Times has said that Sheldon Adelson, the pro-Israel billionaire, is invested in the fight against Hegel, but it’s impossible to say that he has financed the ads.
During the hearing Republican members of the committee badgered Hegel — beat up on him verbally might be a more accurate description. John McCain hammered his former friend because Hegel, though a Republican Senator at the time, had said that the Iraq “surge” was a foreign policy disaster. McCain asked Hegel if he had been wrong and heatedly pursued Hegel for a yes or no answer. Hegel said he’d leave the judgement up to history.
Hegel was pounded for remarks he made about lobbyists for Israel, referring to them as “the Jewish lobby.” (Just in passing, it might be noted that in a letter to the New York Times, Henry Siegman, who worked for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, this country’s biggest pro-Israel lobby, reported that “the organization was referred to by everyone in the Jewish community as ‘the Jewish lobby for Israel.’” ) Senator Lindsey Graham, the Republican from South Carolina, was furious that Hegel had said lawmakers had been intimidated into doing “dumb things” on behalf of the lobby. You might wonder why Graham got so very, very worked up about that. Americans routinely say that Congress is intimidated by lobbyists and does dumb things.
Israel is important to the Department of Defense. Israel’s gravest threat, Iran, is enriching uranium and President Obama has said that he will not permit Iran to acquire an atomic bomb. Israel is important to the defense of the United States because Israel has the most powerful and sophisticated military apparatus in the Middle East and we have historic political and social ties to that country going back to its founding.
The Department of Defense is also winding down a decade-long war in Afghanistan, is sending drones on missions over Pakistan, is wondering how much to intervene in the bloody civil war in Syria, has just established Patriot missiles batteries in Turkey, is anxiously watching a nuclear weapons buildup in an increasingly hostile North Korea, has a growing problem of suicides among the military, and had made a “pivot” toward the growing might of China. The Senate Armed Services Committee barely touched on some of those issues and wholly neglected most of them.
Hegel was interrogated for eight hours. A transcript of the hearing shows that Israel was mentioned by name 178 times, and Iran 171 times. There were five mentions of China, another five of NATO and one of Korea. That’s no way to assess an appointee for Secretary of Defense.