Senators irresponsible, Hagel unprepared and lacking any upfront vision to shape the encounter.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, speaking of secretary of defense, Chuck Hagel, who, David, the president wants to be the secretary of defense, hearing yesterday, confirmation hearing before the Senate, pretty rough going.
What did you take away from that?
DAVID BROOKS: Yes, I thought it was terrible. I thought he did a very poor job.
And we have interviewed him. We have — Mark and I have said nice things about him. I certainly have enjoyed the interviews I have had with him, but he really did a bad job. He projected weakness, which is not something you want in a secretary of defense. He could not even respond to freshman senators with any force or vigor.
He projected a guy who hadn’t prepared. Some of these questions were obvious questions, about the surge, about some of the things he had said on Al-Jazeera. You have got to have an answer. It’s like somebody who walks into a big moment of their life without having done their homework.
And so I still think he will be confirmed on more or less party-line votes. But if it was up to sort of a looking for a boost of — a sign of competence, this wasn’t it.
JUDY WOODRUFF: How did you see it?
MARK SHIELDS: I disagree. I thought he was compelling …
No, he didn’t help himself. He did struggle.
He didn’t appear to be prepared for the questions, I mean, for the intensity and hostility of the questions, especially from his former Republican colleagues, beginning with John McCain, who apparently is convinced at this point in his life that the most seminal event in U.S. history wasn’t the Constitutional Convention or Concord or Lexington or Appomattox. It was the surge.
And where you stood on the surge…
JUDY WOODRUFF: In Iraq.
MARK SHIELDS: In Iraq — that determines whether, in fact, you are a visionary or a retrograde.
But I was — it was a lousy performance by Chuck Hagel. He had obviously decided he wasn’t going get confrontational. When Ted Cruz, the junior senator from Texas, basically accused him of dishonesty, raised questions about his honorary and what he would do, I mean, the idea that Chuck Hagel that David and I know didn’t say, wait a minute, you know — and he did it the last question: I’m out of time now, but let me ask you about this about your speeches and what you got and when you reported and didn’t report.
I mean, at that point, Chuck Hagel says, let me tell you, you know, you have just raised a question. I don’t care about time or time being out. This is my time to tell you, you know, that you are absolutely wrong. And that — and that was just missing completely.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So there is some reporting that Hagel — this was a deliberate strategy on Hagel’s part …
MARK SHIELDS: It was.
JUDY WOODRUFF: … not to be confrontational.
MARK SHIELDS: Not to be …
JUDY WOODRUFF: But you are saying, if that is what it was, it didn’t work.
MARK SHIELDS: Yes.
The senators were awful. Let’s just get one thing straight. We just had the highest suicide rate in the history of the U.S. military recorded. We had to get one senator, Joe Donnelly, the most junior member from Indiana, before anybody even asked about suicides. Nobody asked about the troops. Nobody asked about military families.
I mean, and, you know, Israel is important. It’s crucial. Iran is important — 117 times, Israel was mentioned by questioners. And yet I didn’t hear anything about widows and orphans and what we’re going to do about returning veterans without jobs and post-traumatic stress.
DAVID BROOKS: I think that’s fair.
But the surge was a major event in recent defense history. The secretary should have a view on that.
MARK SHIELDS: He should have a view.
DAVID BROOKS: If you go in a confirmation process, you’re going to be asked about the embarrassing or stupid things you said. You should have a view.
You should certainly be able to express the administration’s position on Iran correctly, which he didn’t do. He didn’t do the containment thing.
MARK SHIELDS: That was — that was terrible.
DAVID BROOKS: He got that wrong.
Now, I agree the questions — but his job is to administer the Defense Department in a time of defense cuts. That’s — and so if you are interested in the competence, I agree. They should have been asking about that. But the doubt would be, if he can’t be the tough guy here, well, it’s going to require a tough guy to cut the Defense Department intelligently. You’re going to have to stand up to a lot of very vested interests. And we just have to know he can do that.
MARK SHIELDS: Well, that clip you — they played on Hillary Clinton addressing her critics before the Foreign Relations Committee, was — and the senators time and time again, even if they would ask these cosmic questions about the globe, they would come back to, well, what about my base? You know, let’s get down to the really important things, back home. You know, are you going to keep my base?
JUDY WOODRUFF: Funding for that.
MARK SHIELDS: Yes.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, David just said he thinks he will still be confirmed. Do you have a thought on that?
MARK SHIELDS: I do. I mean, I do think he will be confirmed.
I mean, the vote, first vote will be in the committee. It’s 14-12.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Party lines.
Phi Beta Iota: Had Hagel opened with a very short statement, three big ideas together, he would have forced a radical change in the dynamic of the hearings. Instead he went in badly prepared and overly submissive. We agree he will be confirmed, but if he refuses to listen to people outside of the small circle that let him down–we suspect that unbeknownst to Hagel, his well-intentioned but very immature personal assistant kept essential external inputs from him.
BIG IDEA #1: Reform can be job and revenue neutral district by district, state by state.
BIG IDEA #2: We can – we must — eradicate the 40% known documented waste in weapons acquisition — but we also must create a 450-ship Navy, a long-haul Air Force, and an air-liftable Army that will both meet our needs for full spectrum capabilities and allow further savings to be achieved by the closure of overseas bases (targets).
BIG IDEA #3: An Open Source Agency (OSA) with an integrated Whole of Government national planning and monitoring center, and a multinational decision support center, will allow us to finally provide Congress with the exact same decision support that the Executive receives across all topics, and radically improve the intelligence and integrity of our entire planning, programming, and budgeting process across all jurisdictions, always subject to the authority of Congress.