There are three acceptable reasons for the Senate to reject a president's nominee for a Cabinet position: The candidate lacks credentials for the position; he fails to meet high ethical standards for personal behavior; or he holds extreme views. It was clear before former Sen. Chuck Hagel's confirmation hearings that he possessed the necessary personal and professional qualifications to serve as secretary of Defense. Hagel's testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday demonstrated that his views about foreign and defense policy are not only well within the mainstream but consonant with those of the president who selected him.
As predicted, Hagel was aggressively questioned by Republicans on the committee, some of whom laid traps designed to portray him as hostile to Israel, indulgent of Iran and naive about the possibility of abolishing nuclear weapons. Hagel sometimes was less than adroit in countering the attacks, and occasionally seemed flustered under the onslaught.
Confronted by cherry-picked quotations from his past, the nominee was eager to regret his phraseology even when it was perfectly defensible. On the other hand, Hagel was needlessly coy when Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) asked whether he still believed President George W. Bush's troop surge in Iraq was a mistake. Hagel replied that "I'm not going to give you a yes or no answer," and suggested that history would be the judge. Hagel could as easily have admitted that, viewed in hindsight, the surge seemed to stabilize the situation in Iraq. That wouldn't have detracted from the fact he was correct that the overall war was a blunder.