Jeremy W. Peters reports on the contentious Armed Services Committee meeting yesterday that resulted in its recommendation for Chuck Hagel’s nomination as Secretary of Defense:
At times, the meeting slipped into an unusually accusatory and bitter back-and-forth, with Republicans like Ted Cruz, a freshman senator from Texas, going as far as to suggest that Mr. Hagel had accepted money from nations that oppose American interests.
Saying that he had serious doubts about the source of payments that Mr. Hagel had accepted for speaking engagements, Mr. Cruz declared, “It is at a minimum relevant to know if that $200,000 that he deposited in his bank account came directly from Saudi Arabia, came directly from North Korea.”
Senator Bill Nelson of Florida and other Democrats countered by saying that Republicans had unfairly questioned the integrity of both Mr. Hagel, a two-time Purple Heart recipient, and had undermined the work of the normally bipartisan committee itself.
“Senator Cruz has gone over the line,” Mr. Nelson said. “He basically has impugned the patriotism of the nominee.”
Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, who is opposing his former colleague, also bristled at the attacks on Mr. Hagel, saying that “no one on this committee should at any time impugn his character or his integrity.”
Tension reached its height when Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, the senior Republican on the committee, said that those who had suggested that Mr. Hagel was “cozy” with terrorist states had a basis for their claims because Iran had expressed support for his nomination.
“He’s endorsed by them,” Mr. Inhofe said. “You can’t get any cozier than that.”
Senator Claire McCaskill, Democrat of Missouri, gasped in disgust. “Senator Inhofe, be careful,” she later warned him. “What if some horrible organization said tomorrow that you were the best guy that they knew?”
“Horrible organization?” Implicitly characterizing Iran as such is not only ignorant — for one, most people wouldn’t refer to Iran as an “organization” — but it also perfectly illustrates the binary us=good/them=bad mentality of our elected officials towards the rest of the world.
No wonder neocons retain their substantial influence on American foreign policy, despite their shameful record on Iraq. No wonder we end up getting involved in Libya and even now some are agitating for action in Syria. If the prospect of being endorsed by one of the United States’ enemies — an enemy created thanks to the actions of the CIA as much as those of the current Iranian regime itself — is so anathema as to disqualify a Defense Secretary nominee, that says more about the committee discussing his appointment than it does about Chuck Hagel.