Five Best Friday Columns

Jonathan Tobin on how Hagel blew it, Chris Cillizza on why Hagel will still get confirmed, Flynt and Hillary Leverett on the need to accept Iranian power, Paul Krugman on the search for austerity successes, and Ron Fournier on covering Hillary. 

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Jonathan Tobin in Commentary on how Hagel blew it Chuck Hagel got grilled to a crisp in his Senate confirmation hearing yesterday, Jonathan Tobin argues. President Obama's nominee for Secretary of Defense offered "stumbling and bumbling answers to tough questions," Tobin writes. "Hagel bobbed and weaved when presented with examples of the contradictions between the voluminous record of votes and statements about Israel, Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah and what he has been saying in public since President Obama nominated him to be the next secretary of defense. Under tough questioning from Lindsey Graham, Kelly Ayotte, Roger Wicker and Ted Cruz, Hagel’s pose as a consistent and ardent friend of Israel and foe of Iran was shown to be nothing but a hastily constructed façade that doesn’t stand up to scrutiny."

Chris Cillizza in The Washington Post on why Hagel will still get confirmed Chris Cillizza isn't saying Hagel aced the exam, but (like Tobin) he thinks that Hagel's performance at the hearings probably won't cost him the office of Defense Secretary. "Hagel not only should have been more ready for the questions he struggled with but also for the confrontational tone in which many of them were asked," Cillizza concedes. However, "It's also important to remember that if history is any guide, the former Nebraska Senator is still very likely to be confirmed ... Short of Democrats peeling away en masse from Hagel, which they seem unlikely to do—as much from loyalty to President Obama as any allegiance to the former Nebraska Republican Senator—the only way that he wouldn’t be confirmed is if Republicans choose to block his nomination. And, historically speaking that is very rarely done."

Flynt and Hillary Leverett in Reuters on the need to accept Iranian power Hagel's stance on Iran was one of the most contested issues in his hearing, with many Senators thinking he needs to adopt a more hardline stance against the country. But if Flynt and Hillary Leverett were in charge of the questioning, they'd probably have demanded reassurance that Hagel would be more lenient toward Iran than his fellow Washington officials. "For its own interests, Washington must take a fundamentally different approach," they argue, saying that the U.S. needs to take a Nixon-in-China position on Iran if they want to save their standing in the Middle East. "President Obama needs to realign U.S. relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran as thoroughly as President Nixon realigned relations with the People’s Republic of China in the early 1970s. Simply 'talking' to Iran will not accomplish this."

Paul Krugman in The New York Times on the search for austerity successes As Congress winds up for another budget fight, we'll certainly be hearing more voices calling for debt reduction and cuts to entitlement programs. But if these moves are meant to boost the economy, Paul Krugman wants to hear examples of places where austerity has worked. He can't find any himself. "Let nobody accuse the austerians of lacking a sense of romance; in fact, they’ve spent years looking for Mr. Goodpain," Krugman writes, citing Ireland, Britain, and Latvia as countries where austerity hasn't worked. "So what do we learn from the rather pathetic search for austerity success stories? We learn that the doctrine that has dominated elite economic discourse for the past three years is wrong on all fronts."

Ron Fournier in National Journal on covering Hillary With today being Hillary Clinton's last day as Secretary of State, Ron Fournier wanted to look back on a figure he's been covering for over two decades. "In late 1998 or early 1999, people close to Clinton told me she was mulling a U.S. Senate campaign," he recalls. "I was stunned: No sitting first lady had ever contemplated such a move, much less one whose husband had been impeached for lying about an affair. It took me several days to overcome my doubts. When I finally reported that she was seeking the vacant U.S. Senate seat in New York, another news organization quoted several authoritative sources insisting that she was not. The competition didn’t know what I did: Never bet against Hillary Rodham Clinton."

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