Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain stole the show at Thursday’s confirmation hearing for Secretary of Defense, attacking nominee Chuck Hagel, a fellow Republican, relentlessly with questions about the Iraq war.
“I want to know if you were right or wrong about the surge. That’s a direct question, I expect a direct answer,” McCain said in a stern tone, insisting that the only way to answer the question was, “Yes” or “No.”
Hagel was interrupted several times by McCain has he tried to explain his position. “Well, I’m not going to give you a yes or no. I think it’s far more complicated…”
McCain snapped back with, “Let the record show that you refused to answer that question.”
The exchange went on for what seemed like too long, with McCain looking and sounding more like a wounded lover in broken relationship than a senator in search of Hagel’s qualifications to do the job of secretary of defense.
However, that was no excuse for Sen. Hagel’s shaky performance. The long-time GOP colleague and former friend of Sen. McCain, stumbled through the hearing, seemingly unprepared to answer questions from a wall of contemptuous Republicans.
The focus on the Iraq War might be considered something of a public display of what ended the McCain-Hagel friendship.
Chris Cillizza explains in the Washington Post:
“While Hagel, like McCain, voted for the use of force resolution against Iraq, he was always wary of America going it alone in the conflict and, as time wore on, became a more and more outspoken critic of the war.
McCain, on the other hand, remained a stalwart defender of the necessity of the war and went on later in the decade to become the face of the surge strategy to put more troops in the country. Hagel opposed that strategy and panned it repeatedly.”
Another reason to suggest that the exchange between McCain and Hagel was personal is because the position of secretary of defense does not include making foreign policy. That job remains with the office of the presidency.
Despite the feisty exchange between Hagel and McCain, President Obama’s pick for secretary of defense is expected to be confirmed.
Video: McCain Pushes Hagel: 'You Were on the Wrong Side of History'