John McCain’s first round interrogation of Chuck Hagel was rude and uncouth, but Hagel’s answer wasn’t quite satisfactory, either.
Hagel opposed the 2007 Iraq surge, which played a large part in the ultimate stabilization of that country–at least, to the point where we were able to leave. McCain demanded to know whether Hagel now thought the surge was a good or bad thing. Hagel tried to answer; McCain interrupted him, demanding a yes or no. Hagel tried to put it in context, saying that the war in Iraq had been our worst foreign policy mistake since Vietnam; McCain again pushed for a yes or no. Hagel, rightly, refused to give a yes or no.
So let’s put this in perspective: Hagel is absolutely correct on the big picture. Iraq was a disastrous, irresponsible decision (although Hagel voted for it, then quickly came to his senses). McCain has been dead wrong on the big picture–fabulously wrong, since he opposed our leaving Iraq, even after the situation stabilized. But he’s right about the surge: it helped stabilize Baghdad at the same time as the Army, under General Petraeus, was having success in turning Sunni tribes away from Al Qaeda in Iraq.
It might be useful at this point–almost 10 years after George W. Bush made the dreadful decision to go to war–to have an intelligent conversation about how we could make such a terrible mistake. It would also be useful to have a conversation about the surge, about how the Petraeus counterinsurgency strategy affected the tamping down of violence. But McCain’s questioning was more about personal pique and histrionics than it was about elucidating Hagel’s views. It was a foolish and demeaning exercise.
For the transcript between Hagel and McCain, see Michael Scherer’s article.