Three Points on the Hagel Hearings

Chuck_Hagel_hearing_ap_img.jpg1) Whoever helped former Senator Chuck Hagel (AP photo) prepare for today's hearings should retire from the hearing-preparation business. It is hard to imagine how Hagel could have walked into that hearing room without bulletproof (or at least confident-sounding) replies ready on three of the questions he was sure to be asked: about his opposition to the Iraq "surge," about his comments on "the Jewish lobby," and about his policy toward Iran.

Maybe this was the same team that prepared Barack Obama for his first debate last fall? Just a thought.

2) Whatever mistakes Obama may have made as president, today's hearings reminded us of one very important accomplishment. Because of him, the choleric and bullying figure that John McCain has become does not sit in the White House.

3) Virtually none of the hostile questions for Hagel reflected awareness that a secretary of Defense, no matter how influential, does not set U.S. foreign policy, does not decide where and whether to commit troops, does not decide on boycotts versus engagement with Iran, does not make war-or-peace decisions, and in countless other ways is not the President of the United States. We're used to "security theater" at the airport. "Hearings theater" is a far longer-established practice.

Bonus Point #4!  As is so often the case, Sen. Jim Inhofe was in a class by himself. Here he impugns Hagel by saying that the Iranian foreign ministry supports him. 

Hagel did neither himself nor the administration any favors with his performance today. But he was far from the most disappointing figure in the room.
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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

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