Confirm Hagel: At a bumpy hearing, he showed knowledge and grit
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Former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel, the president's nominee to succeed Leon Panetta as secretary of defense, had a rough day at his Senate hearing last Thursday, but he still should be confirmed for the post.
Mr. Hagel's qualifications remain impressive. He was a twice-wounded foot soldier in the Vietnam War, which gives him a valuable perspective on what it means to send men and women to war. Some of them -- perhaps many of them -- will die or be wounded and, so, the reason for U.S. involvement in a war should be clear and important in terms of the nation's interests.
Some of Mr. Hagel's statements in the hearing, for eight hours before the Senate Armed Services Committee, were perhaps not as smooth or rehearsed as they could have been. Knowing the Senate, he should have expected a certain number of cheap shots. On the other hand, people across the country no doubt appreciated his plain-spoken, yet sophisticated responses to self-serving questions, ready-made for the camera, from some of the Senate's lesser media stars.
One such exchange was a confrontational "yes or no" question on the Iraq War troop surge from defeated Republican presidential nominee John McCain of Arizona, a Vietnam veteran himself. Another was the effort by Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina to extract personal criticism from Mr. Hagel of individual senators on undue influence of the Israeli lobby in Congress, a subject on which the nominee has been famously quoted.
Americans should be concerned about who will lead the Department of Defense during the effort, already under way, by the White House and Congress to preserve the armed forces' high level of capability while, at the same time, the costs of the Pentagon and other government departments are reduced in the name of cutting the budget deficit and reversing the upward spiral of the national debt.
Mr. Hagel demonstrated in action at Thursday's hearing that he possesses the knowledge, core values and coolness and practicality in the face of opposition to carry out that difficult task. The Senate should approve his nomination as soon as possible so he can begin work.
First Published February 4, 2013 12:00 am