Sen. John McCain tangled with Chuck Hagel over the Iraq War surge during Hagel’s Senate confirmation hearing Thursday to be the next secretary of defense.
McCain (R-Ariz.) grilled his former colleague over his past stated opposition to the 2007 U.S. troop increase, particularly how he once calling it the “most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam.” Despite repeatedly being asked for a yes-or-no answer, the former Republican senator for Nebraska didn’t budge.
“Do you stand by those comments, Senator Hagel?” McCain asked.
“Well senator, I stand by them because I made them and — ” Hagel said.
“Stand by,” McCain interjected. “Were you right? Were you correct in your assessment?”
Hagel said he would “defer to the judgement of history” on that, but McCain didn’t let up.
“The committee deserves your judgement as to whether you were right or wrong about the surge,” he demanded. “I want to know if you were right or wrong. That’s a direct question, I expect a direct answer.”
When Hagel said the surge “assisted in the objective,” McCain charged again.
“Will you please answer the question: Were you correct or incorrect when you said that the surge would be the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in the country since Vietnam? Were you correct or incorrect yes or no?…I would like you to answer whether were you right or wrong, and then you are free to elaborate,” McCain said.
“I’m not going to give you a yes or no answer,” Hagel said.
“Well let the record show you refused to answer that question,” McCain said. “Now please go ahead.”
“Well if you would like me to explain why,” Hagel said.
“Actually I would like an answer, yes or no,” McCain fired back.
Hagel said again he wouldn’t do that, repeating that he would “defer that judgement to history.” He said instead that the comment was not strictly related to the surge but that it was more general about the war in Iraq.
“Our war in Iraq I think was the most fundamentally bad, dangerous decision since Vietnam,” Hagel said. “Aside from the cost that occured in this country in blood and treasure, aside from what that did to take our focus off of Afghanistan, which was the original and real focus of a national threat to this county — Iraq was not — I always tried to frame all the different issues before I made a decision on anything.”
Hagel added, “Now just as you said, senator, we can have differences of opinion but that’s essentially why I took the position.”
“It’s a fundamental difference of opinion, Senator Hagel.” McCain replied. “I think history has already made a judgment about the surge, sir, and you’re on the wrong side of it. And your refusal to answer whether you were right or wrong about it, is going to have an impact on my judgement on whether to vote for your confirmation or not.”