The following editorial appeared in Wednesday's Kansas City Star:
Former Sen. Chuck Hagel went through three mock confirmation hearings to prepare for the real thing, but still left many supporters surprised at his poor performance. It's a shame President Barack Obama didn't tap a better nominee for secretary of defense.
Although Hagel is a Republican, he faced tough grilling from GOP senators because of his dovish views. But even facing friendlier interrogators, he often seemed befuddled.
Hagel said he supported Obama's "containment" policy toward Iran but after he was given a note, he corrected himself. "Obviously we don't have a position on containment," he said. That led the Democratic committee chairman, Sen. Carl Levin, to interject another correction namely that the administration did have a position, which was against containment and for prevention prevention of Iran's presumed drive to develop nuclear weapons.
At one point, Hagel claimed Iran had a "legitimate, elected" government, which it does not, although he backed away from that later. Similar stumbles occurred throughout the day, as when he declined on several occasions to declare Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist entity.
Republican Sen. Lindsay Graham of South Carolina asked about Hagel's 2008 statement that what he termed the "Jewish lobby" had intimidated Congress into doing "stupid things." Hagel could not provide examples of stupid policies or intimidated lawmakers.
Ultimately, he fell back on admitting he still had much to learn, and reminding the senators that in any case, the position he seeks isn't one that makes policy a weak argument in seeking one of the most important Cabinet positions.
If his nomination is approved by the Senate, Hagel would follow Robert Gates and Leon Panetta as Pentagon chief, both able appointees. Obama should have sought a replacement in the same league.