Graham didn’t show best side questioning Hagel

This is getting to be all-Lindsey-Graham-all-the-time, but the guy’s just had a busy week.

That said, his questioning of Chuck Hagel today wasn’t his best moment.

I have no particular problem with any of the questions our senior senator asked the nominee, in terms of their substance. I do have a problem with Graham’s hectoring tone, his interruptions, his condescension. This was not the way Lindsey Graham usually interacts with people, and it was painful to watch. It was like he was doing an impersonation of someone with a completely different personality.

He managed to get Hagel off-balance, and the nominee looked bad a couple of times. But the way Graham was riding him generated sympathy for Hagel, which is not what I think the senator meant to do.

Personally, I have a lot of doubts about Hagel as secretary of Defense, and I think Lindsey Graham is capable of shedding light constructively on the uproblem areas. It’s the kind of thing I rely on him to do. But that’s not what I saw, and heard, him doing on this video clip, and that is disappointing.

43 thoughts on “Graham didn’t show best side questioning Hagel

  1. Doug Ross

    There must be some internal polling for 2014 that is making him nervous. You seem to be surprised when he behaves this way. I haven’t been surprised yet.

    1. Barry

      I like him but sometimes he takes too much advice from Sen. McCain.

      That said- I thought his questions were fair. Hagel is as wishy washy as it gets.

  2. Jeff Morrell

    I believe you mean Secretary of Defense. Hagel was horrible today which really surprised me.

  3. Phillip

    Graham wasn’t the only one exhibiting that tone, it started with Inhofe and continued from there. By the way you should have reservations about Hagel as Sec’y of State…he’s up for Defense 😉

    I only wish Hagel would have been more defiant in the sense of ” yes, that’s what I said, deal with it.” We supposedly live in a free country but it’s demeaning to see Cabinet nominees have to reliably utter certain standard pieties (“greatest force for good…” “Must maintain our military superiority”) just as is surely done in Central Committee meetings in Beijing. Independent thinkers like Hagel offend the apparatchiks. Oh well, at least we have C-Span.

  4. Phillip

    Graham seemed hardly able to contain his smugness over the phrase “we’re at war” as a justification for our defense expenditures. One gets the feeling he’d just as soon see us be at war every day into perpetuity, since it’s so good-fer-bidness.

    Oh, and though the overly deferential Hagel couldn’t think of a single bad decision by the Senate due to the Israeli lobby (in response to Graham’s question), II can think of one possible one right now: not confirming Hagel. These GOP neocons are not friends of Israel, they’re friends of the Israeli right wing. As Jon Stewart pointed out the other night, based on the recent Israeli election results and these neocons’ standards, roughly half of Israelis are anti-Israel.

  5. bud

    Even for Lindsey Graham that was atrocious. He didn’t distinguish himself with his demeanor or his questions. Plus he seemed nervous and angry. I didn’t learn anything at all about Hagel since he was never given a chance to answer the questions. Even though the questions were bombastic you can still learn something from someone by how they address those types of questions. But only if allowed the opportunity to respond. This was a very bad day for South Carolina.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      With reference to Bud’s observation that “he seemed nervous and angry.” I think Bud’s right, although the term I would use is uncomfortable. This was not Lindsey Graham being himself, and I got the feeling he didn’t like it at all. He had decided to act this way and he was going to see it through, but he didn’t like it. And maybe he resented Hagel for putting him in a position in which he thought he had to act that way. I don’t know. It was just weird…

  6. JasonG


    I saw that and I thought two things:

    1 Internal polling for 2014 needs to be better / he’s scared about someone jumping in soon.

    2. John McCain told him to go after Hagel, so Graham did. Because I think sometimes Graham’s highest value is “the person in front of me an enemy or a friend of McCain”.

  7. bud

    This was not Lindsey Graham being himself, and I got the feeling he didn’t like it at all. He had decided to act this way and he was going to see it through, but he didn’t like it.

    Those two sentences don’t jibe. If he decided to “act this way” there has to be some motivating factor. Perhaps as Jason suggest he’s beholden to John McCain somehow. Or perhaps it really is a fear for his job or fear of the neo-cons. Or perhaps he just convinced himself he needed to be “tough”. Any of those reasons (or some combination) just make him look even worse. What a quality senator SHOULD do is ask the questions that are important to him but do so in a respectful manner. If Lindsey really is the senator that Brad is convinced that he is he would not have behaved as a doormat to whatever pressure that was leveled against him. Or, he really is just a jerk. Either way, he went a long way toward losing the respect of many that had once found him a statesman.

  8. Phillip

    I hate to say it, but I wish Hagel had found a way to channel a bit of Donald Rumsfeld or even John Bolton. It seemed a sad spectacle, an outspoken person with a reputation for challenging so many unthinking assumptions turned into an almost obsequious apologist for his former self, stammering and futilely thinking the bullies on the committee were interested at all in hearing what he had to say. He seemed to want the job too much. Answers I wish Chuck Hagel had given:

    Inhofe: What do you have to say about the Iranian Foreign Ministry being in favor of your nomination? Hagel: This is the United States, and we—you the Senate and the President—decide who will serve in our Cabinet, not foreign governments or political parties, whether the Iranian Foreign Ministry or the Likud Party in Israel.

    Sen. Lee: Do these Palestinian terrorists have a legitimate grievance? Hagel: There is never a justification for terrorism. (He did say this part). But the Palestinian people do have legitimate concerns and grievances that somehow must be reconciled, with Israel’s peace and security. If according the same rights to innocent civilians across the globe bothers you, Sen. Lee, well I can’t help you there. (But one dares not say anything remotely sympathetic about the Palestinians at these hearings).

    Sen. Cruz: What do you think about US participation in the World Court? Hagel: Sen. Cruz, I’m nominated for Sec’y of Defense, not State. I hate to tell you this but you must have overslept during those hearings, which just finished confirming my friend John Kerry.

    Sen. Graham: Name an example where the Senate has made a bad decision influnced by the Israel lobby. Hagel: Well, I think these hearings and the behavior of virtually every one from your party is a beautiful example, where not only is it completely impermissible to even ACKNOWLEDGE Palestinian concerns, but the Israel-Palestinian issue so completely dominates the lines of questioning that not a single one of you clowns has even asked ONE question about China. Hello? You guys ever heard of them? All I do is quote your fellow South Carolinian, Ernest Hollings, who on this floor said “You can’t have an Israel policy other than what AIPAC gives you around here.”

    One of the few moments Hagel gave as good as he got came when he put Kelly Ayotte on the defensive by his statement that “engagement does not equal surrender,” to which she had to actually justify her position, put her on the defensive and forced her to say she didn’t believe that either. But those moments were very few and far-between.

    1. JasonG

      That’s just stupid.

      If Hagel is anti semitic, then so is the half of the Israeli electorate that just voted for someone other than Netanyahu’s party.

      Someone remind me why Israel gets to decide US foreign policy?

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Jason, those Israel voters voted against Likud, not against “the Jewish lobby.” Nor against the “Israel lobby.”

        And it’s not logical to equate support for Israel in the U.S. with support for Likud. I’ve heard that meme a couple of times in the last couple of days, and it just doesn’t make sense. I’m sure there’s a big overlap, but plenty of people in this country who are strongly pro-Israel would be just as likely to support Labour, or some other party. Although I suspect that in the aggregate, U.S. support for Israel is pretty nonpartisan, in terms of Israeli parties.

        1. JasonG

          So would you have felt better is Hagel had said that the AIPAC lobby intimidates a lot of people in Congress?

          Because they certainly do.

          And a lot of Christian Zionists, like Rand Paul, do support Likud over Labor or other parties. Likud does do a tremendous amount of lobbying, especially among dispensational US Christian groups.

          I’m not defending Hagel, he seemed very unprepared for some obvious questions – and hectoring. He if wanted to say the Iraq war was a mistake, he should have told that to McCain directly, rather than have a few hours of hemming and hawing.

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            I agree. He should have. And if he had evidence of arm-twisting that led to bad decisions by the U.S. government, he should have come up with those, too.

          2. Brad Warthen Post author

            By the way, I didn’t see the McCain questioning, and maybe y’all did, but isn’t the big disagreement between the two of them over the Surge, not over whether our involvement in Iraq was a good idea in the first place?

  9. Stanley Dubinsky

    If I had been in Sen. Graham’s place, I would have been just as pointed in my questioning. Chuck Hagel’s comments were beyond the pale, and the fact that he’s even sitting there being interviewed for such a position, reflects poorly on President Obama and his administration. What Hagel said (without evidence and with malice) makes him unfit to be the US Dogcatcher.

  10. Brad Warthen Post author

    Stan, you know what? Now that I watch that again, it’s pretty devastating. The first time, I was so put off by Lindsey’s tone that I didn’t fully perceive just how lame Hagel came across.

    And Phillip, there’s a very good reason why no one was sticking up for the Palestinians in that hearing. Hagel never complained about the “Muslim lobby” or the “A-rab lobby,” or even the “Palestinian lobby.” He complained about the “Jewish lobby.”

    Furthermore, all he was doing when he said that was spouting a knee-jerk line that plays well on the left, without any substance to back it up. He’s had years to think about it, and he STILL can’t give an example of any bad policy move this country has made as a result of the “Jewish lobby.” He was expressing an emotion, rather than a thought, and I don’t blame Stan or any other Jew for taking it personally.

    He couldn’t think of a single policy error we’ve committed because of that pressure, and neither can I. Which is why he shouldn’t have said it, whatever terminology he used.

    And I didn’t agree with Fritz Hollings when he said things like that, either. Senators should be free to say what they think. But when they want to be a part of an administration, they need to be held accountable for what they said.

    Is there a strong historic tendency on the part of the U.S. government, and among the American electorate, to support Israel? You bet. And that’s a good thing. We should support Israel partly because it is the one country in that troubled region that shares fundamental values with this country, but also because it is an isolated country surrounded by people who are hostile to it, many of whom want it to cease to exist.

    The closest relationship we have to that one is the one we have with the UK, and if Britain were constantly threatened the way Israel is, we would and should stick up for her.

    Does that mean “Israel, right or wrong.” In one sense, yes — the existential sense. Even when Israel does bad things, such as the aggressive deployment of settlements, on balance the continued existence of Israel is a good thing, and we should support it against those who mean it violence. But does it mean we support every move Israel makes? Absolutely not. We speak out against Israel’s wrong moves, and press for change. That doesn’t make us anti-Israel.

    But saying the Israeli lobby makes us do dumb things, when we can’t think of an example — that’s being anti-Israel, and reflexively so.

    1. Stanley Dubinsky

      I imagine that Lindsey, who appears to be an empathetic man, felt some outrage (as I do) about the (not so) covert anti-Semitism that Hagel has expressed over the years (which make him unfit for any cabinet-level position). I would hope that Hagel’s nomination would trigger the same level of outrage as would the nomination of David Duke for a similar position.

  11. bud

    Phillip and Brad are both correct in noting that Hagel’s answers were not particularly great. However, while Phillip made some excellent points on how Hagel should have responded Brad continues with this utter and complete nonsensical argument that Israel is our great ane wonderful friend and ally. What a crock. All Israel has ever done for us is make us look like a bully. Of course the hearings point to the utter ridiculous nature of American politics that finds it necessary to bow down to the Israeli lobby. It is completely obvious and utterly embarrassing to those of us who view the Middle East as a complicated situation that cries out for a bit of balance. Damn it the Palestinians have real. legitimate grievances with Israel and the US continues to treat Israel as the 51st state. Sure there are radical elements within the Palestinian movement and they should be treated for the terrorists that they are. But Israel has no business continuing to build settlements and treating Palestinians within Israel proper as indentured servants with no citizenship rights while the Palestinian Authority seeks a peaceful, two-state solution. The US needs to get tough with Israel, not baby them. Too bad Hagel felt the need to backtrack on a record that is really pretty good.

    1. Stanley Dubinsky

      It would appear that Bud has been drinking out of the same vat of Cool Aid as Chuck Hagel. The delusional extent to which some people believe that Israel (or “The Jews” or “The Zionists”) control events in the US or the rest of the world beggars belief. Like the Egyptian authorities who imagined that the Israelis were behind shark attacks on European tourists in the Sinai (it’s true!), people who believe (like Chuck and Bud here) that the US must and does “bow down to the Israeli lobby” are just lying about the world and what Jews do in it. No, Bud, we don’t murder Christian children to make our Passover matzah either. I can assure Bud, and anyone else holding such noxious views, that if “The Jews” did control the world, it would be a MUCH better place than it is now.

      1. Phillip

        Stanley, you’re the one making outrageous charges here. Bud (and Hagel) said no such thing that merits being equated with wacky anti-Israeli conspiracy theorists. (except maybe “bow down” was a bit excessive, Bud. ) Everything else Bud just said was extremely reasonable and the truth lies somewhere between the idea that AIPAC “controls” US policy (of course not true as you and I would agree) and the idea that there’s no cause-and-effect (even if in merely defining the parameters of what constitutes “acceptable” debate on the topic, as we saw in yesterday’s hearings) between AIPAC’s efforts and US foreign policy…an equally absurd proposition.

        If wholeheartedly supporting Israel’s right-to-exist while also acknowledging Palestinians’ “real, legitimate grievances” constitutes “noxious views,” well, where can I get some of that Kool-Aid?

  12. Bryan Caskey

    To be clear, y’all are complaining that Sen. Graham et al. weren’t sufficiently “nice” in their questioning? Do I have that right? Y’all are upset that a potential Secretary of Defense can’t handle a little rough questioning????

    Hey! No fighting in the War room! SecDef has tender feelings!

  13. Burl Burlingame

    The McCain and others’ questioning was designed to provoke embarrassing sound bites out of Hagel, and he wasn’t playing that game.

  14. bud

    Bryan you completely misrepresent what I said. I find tough questioning a good way to learn about a nominee for war secretary (which is what this really is). What bothered me most about Lindsey’s performance was his inability to shut up and let Hagel answer the stupid, idiotic questions. Secondly, after reading some other comments here I find it disturbing that Lindsey and others focussed so much time and energy to just one region of the world. Tough questions – Yes. Rude interuptions designed merely to intimidate -no. Typical neo-con performance – lots of bluster; no substance.

  15. Phillip

    “But does it mean we support every move Israel makes? Absolutely not. We speak out against Israel’s wrong moves, and press for change. That doesn’t make us anti-Israel.”

    Well, that will come as news to the entire GOP delegation on that committee yesterday.

    “But saying the Israeli lobby makes us do dumb things, when we can’t think of an example — that’s being anti-Israel, and reflexively so.” Oh Hagel could think of examples all right, but discretion was the better part of valor. Why just feed Graham’s frenzy? They (the GOP neocons) fundamentally disagree with your first statement quoted above, which is why Hagel could pledge his undying support for the state of Israel in an existential sense over and over and none of them would care. (And evidently you don’t either, since you continue to insist Hagel is “anti-Israel.”) The fundamental damage done in American politics by the influence of AIPAC is the damage to an open dialogue, to the point where criticism of Israel is labeled “anti-Semitic” and one cannot even acknowledge that there is another side for legitimate concern in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute than only the Israeli view of things.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Actually, it’s only anti-semitic when you say “Jewish lobby.” That’s pretty telling.

      What I’m saying is that Hagel is anti-Israel in a way that is reflexive, and emotional. He comes across as the kind of guy who will moan about the Jewish (oh, excuse me, I meant, Israel) lobby because it makes certain people smile and appreciate him as a deep and compassionate thinker, when he doesn’t know what he’s talking about; he’s just mouthing a platitude.

      I don’t swallow that he “could think of examples all right.” I don’t think he could. And if he could, then that’s another count against him. If he doesn’t have the guts to stand up and say, “Yes, senator, here’s what I mean,” then we don’t need him as SecDef. Or secretary of state, either. (Thank y’all for pointing out my error, folks; I fixed it.)

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        It’s highly worrisome to me that people anywhere near the mainstream of public life can moan about the Jewish influence on our government without sending Germany-in-the-30s chills up the spine of every thinking person within hearing.

        The Nazis didn’t have to come up with examples, either. They just moaned about the Jewish influence, and everybody nodded…

        1. JasonG

          Complete straw man, and you know it.

          Honestly, if you can’t agree that American foreign policy is driven way too much by what goes on in Israeli politics, that it is impossible to be a GOP nominee (my party, that I have worked for) without going to the wall in militaristic terms about modern Israel. When Sarah Palin and other politicians starts wearing US & Israel flag pins (not US & Canada, not US & UK, not US & Taiwan, not US & South Korea, etc.), it really goes from supporting an ally to be overly influenced by AIPAC.

          You know that.
          From Colin Powell, one of your “UnParty guys:

          “Powell, who endorsed Hagel the day President Obama announced his nomination, pushed back against concerns some senators have raised about Hagel’s record on Iraq, Iran and Israel.
          “There are people who are very supportive of the state of Israel,” Powell said. “I’m very supportive of the state of Israel. So is Senator Hagel, and you’ll see that in the confirmation hearings, but it doesn’t mean you have to agree with every single position that the Israeli government takes. He also defended Hagel from accusations of anti-Semitism. “When they go over the edge and say because Chuck said ‘Jewish lobby’ he’s anti-Semitic, that’s disgraceful,” Powell said. “We shouldn’t have that kind of language in our dialog.””

          1. Phillip

            JasonG, I couldn’t agree more. Mentions of “Israel” on that day of the hearing: 135. Mentions of “China” on that day of the hearing: 5.

            Lindsay Graham answered his own question. Case closed.

          2. Brad Warthen Post author

            Actually, no. The case isn’t closed at all.

            What y’all are saying doesn’t make sense.

            Had Hagel made controversial statements about China, statements that caused some of his fellow Republicans to doubt his fitness for the office? No.
            So why would you expect them to go on and on about China, or address it at all, if it wasn’t a cause for concern with regard to Hagel?

            Anyway, aside from Hagel, I doubt that Republicans have much problem with the administration when it comes to China, given Obama’s shift toward making that region a priority.

  16. bud

    I don’t buy for one second that Hagel is “anti-Israel in a way that is reflexive, and emotional”. That is simply the perspective of the neo-cons who fawn over every move Israel makes like some sort of groupee at a Justin Beieber concert. Until we can admit that all this fawning over Israel is imbalanced and counterproductive to our national security the more at risk we put the America people.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      That’s a false dichotomy, Bud. One doesn’t have to “fawn over every move Israel makes like some sort of groupee at a Justin Beieber concert” in order to have a problem with what Hagel said, or the fact that he is unable to explain what he said, in terms of giving any examples.

  17. Ralph Hightower

    Geez! I’ve alwasy thought of Graham as the more reasonable person in the Senate. He apparently sees the “crosshairs” on his back from that former Senator from South Carolina, Jim Demint, funneling gazillions of dollars to candidates from his Think Tank to defeat Graham.

    That’s the only reason why I think that Graham is acting disrepectful and being a general ass.

  18. bud

    The Nazis didn’t have to come up with examples, either. They just moaned about the Jewish influence, and everybody nodded…

    As a general rule anytime someone compares any modern situation to the Nazis they lose credibility. This is a good case in point.

  19. Brad Warthen Post author

    I knew somebody was going to say that.

    But tell me, when the subject is vague, unsupported complaints about “Jewish influence,” precisely what group from history is supposed to come to mind? The Federalists? The Visigoths? The Shakers? The Transcendentalists? The Gnostics?

    1. Phillip

      He said “Jewish lobby” once, to Aaron David Miller in an interview. Once. One time. It was a bad choice of words because it does of course carry unfortunate echoes of the old tropes that you mentioned. But I find no other record of Hagel using these kinds of terms in discussing Israel or AIPAC. Since Israel does identify itself in its Basic Laws as a “Jewish democratic state” it’s not completely unreasonable to take Hagel at his word that he meant the “Israel lobby” specifically AIPAC, and are you really suggesting that AIPAC does NOT wield considerable clout in Congress?

      The main point is that he has consistently expressed both support for Israel on a fundamental, existential basis, as well as on occasion daring to acknowledge the plight of the Palestinians and criticizing some aspects of Israeli policy. On all those other occasions, he has not to my knowledge referred to “Jewish groups” or “Jewish influence,” etc. For this one phrase he is now compared by you to Nazis? For this one phrase, in spite of consistent support for Israel, he is judged by you to be “anti-Israel in a way that is reflexive and emotional.”? On that alone?

      As Richard Cohen put it in the WaPo, “Nothing Hagel has said about Israel is not said in the Israeli press on a daily basis. Trust me: By the Wall Street Journal’s standards, Israeli media would be deeply anti-Semitic. I thought the day had long passed when a skeptical attitude toward this or that Israeli policy would trigger charges of anti-Semitism. The accusation is so powerful — so freighted with images of the Holocaust — that it tends to silence all but the bravest or the most foolish.”

  20. Doug Ross

    McCain didn’t show his best side today either by sending out a tweet comparing the president of Iran to a monkey. He’s pretty much turned into crotchety old man. We’re lucky he isn’t in the White House (especially with Palin as VP).

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