Sen. John McCain wanted one thing from his aggressive questioning of his former friend Chuck Hagel at his confirmation hearing Thursday: for Hagel to admit that McCain had been right about the Iraq surge. He did not get what he wanted. Hagel, who is likely to be confirmed as Secretary of Defense, opposed the surge, and said the Iraq war was "the most dangerous foreign policy decision since Vietnam." McCain strongly supported the surge, urging the U.S. not to give up on Iraq like it did Vietnam. So when McCain demanded to know whether Hagel thought he was right or wrong on the surge in Thursday's hearing, he was also asking who correctly applied the lessons they learned when fighting in Vietnam.
McCain and Hagel used to be good friends. They are both Republicans and Vietnam veterans. McCain campaigned for Hagel in his first race in 1996, Hagel campaigned for McCain in 2000. But their friendship fell apart over the Iraq war. Hagel was an early skeptic of the war in 2002, as The New York Times' Elisabeth Bumiller reports, though he voted for the resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq. Hagel was skeptical of sending a surge of troops to Iraq in 2007, while McCain strongly supported it. Hagel compared the war to Vietnam, and said in 2007, "we better be damn sure we know what we’re doing, all of us, before we put 22,000 more Americans into that grinder." Hagel didn't support McCain's 2008 campaign, and visited Iraq with then-Sen. Barack Obama. Sen. Lindsey Graham told the Times in December, "The Iraq war is where the policy differences became pretty difficult to deal with." One of McCain's 2008 advisers said he "takes policy disputes very, very personally."