"It's somewhere between baffling and incomprehensible." A quote from one of the president's advisers on Iran, responding to a question about former Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel's performance last Thursday during his confirmation hearing.
"Clueless" was Senator Lindsey Graham's (R-SC) assessment.
When asked about his policy on Iran, Hagel apparently tried to say his current views match the president's.
"My policy has always been the same as the president's, one of prevention, not containment. And the president has made clear that is the policy of our government. I support the president's strong position on containment." This seemingly contradictory statement lead to an aide handing him a slip of paper, presumably from one of the committee members, after which he stated, "By the way, I've just been handed a note that I misspoke and said I supported the president's position on containment. If I said that, I meant to say that obviously-on his position on containment-we don't have a position on containment."
Senator Carl Levin (D-MI), the chairman of the Armed Forces Committee, tried to correct Hagel without criticizing, saying, "Just to make sure your correction is clear, we do have a position on containment: which is we do not favor containment."
Containment is the policy that whether or not Iran develops a nuclear weapon, they can still be prevented from using it. The president's policy is "all options on the table" with preference toward sanctions and negotiations to prevent Iran from having nuclear weapons; but in the political arena (when he was running against Romney last fall) President Obama stated that military options are part of the equation in stopping Iran from becoming nuclear. In his briefings prior to his confirmation hearing, it should have been a topic of conversation to be expected.
Iran's foreign minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, said Sunday his country is open to new talks with the United States. The statements by the presumed Secretary of Defense must further confuse a delicate negotiating process, and adds to the on-going criticism that the Obama administration's foreign policy has been mixed messages they seem to send Iran in how they intend to move forward. This, as the region is steadily consumed in civil unrest in Syria, weapons movements to terrorists, and Israel attacks into neighboring countries to stop the growing threats. Iran is considered the hub of all offensive movements against Israel, through their surrogates.
The toughest questioning and criticism for Hagel came from his former Republican constituents, many stating they would vote against his confirmation. In the process of counting votes, only two Republicans, Thad Cochran (R-MS) and former Nebraska governor Mike Johanns (R-NE), said they will vote for Hagel. In the current 55-45 Senate, with two assured Republican votes, it sets up the possibility for blocking the confirmation with a filibuster, which requires 60 votes.
Now, another key voice has spoken. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) says he is opposed to any effort to filibuster the Hagel nomination. He believes the Senate should provide an up or down vote on the nomination, but trying to prevent the nomination through filibuster would be unprecedented. And he would vote for cloture (the vote to force an end to any filibuster) if necessary. Indeed, in 224 years, the Senate has only rejected 9 Cabinet nominees.
Nebraska's other Senator, Deb Fischer (R-NE), while not committing to voting against Hagel, expressed concern his views were "extreme...far to the left even of those of the administration." This was in response to his participation in the Global Zero report, which he co-authored last year, and which proposes that all nuclear weapons be eliminated, and that the United States should lead the way in giving up weapons first.
The outcome seems much more difficult than is should have been, but looks like a narrow margin of approval. In the interim, hopefully, Hagel becomes better prepared to manage the most efficient military in the world, as it assimilates budgetary cuts, women in combat, and withdrawal from Afghanistan. And what our policy is in Iran.