While I am supportive in theory of Chuck Hagel as a qualified candidate to run the Department of Defense–i.e., he served in the military, was a competent Senator and a successful businessman–there is no denying his performance before the Senate Armed Services Committee last week was sad and embarrassing. His back peddling and reversals on several issues really call into question our ability to trust him as a man of conviction. It also raises doubts about his intellect. He utterly failed to defend himself on points that he should have easily refuted.

Take John McCain’s rantings about The Surge in Iraq. McCain wanted a yes or no answer. Well, actually, he wanted Hagel to admit his error in opposing the surge.

Hagel should have said something akin to this:

“Yes, Senator McCain, I was right.

“The surge did not change fundamentally the strategic and tactical situation on the ground. The decline in violence we witnessed in 2007 and 2008 was achieved because of the Anwar Awakening. Months before President Bush announced the surge, our intelligence services identified that lack of money was primary incentive for the Sunnis who were planting bombs along the roadways that killed our troops. Once we started paying the Sunni Sheiks in western Iraq the number of bombings dropped precipitously.

The surge ended up draining our Treasury and putting the lives of our military personnel at risk. A risk frankly that was unwarranted. Why? Because we have withdrawn from Iraq but not fundamentally changed the politics or dynamics in that society, which is still struggling to find a solution to sectarian strife and centuries old enmities. I did not and do not believe that we should deploy our forces into a conflict where we have no clear picture of what constitutes victory. We were not victorious in Iraq and we do ourselves a great disservice to continue with the delusion that is was a great strategic accomplishment.

So, Senator McCain, I return to your question. Yes, I was right to challenge the surge and would challenge it again today if asked to make the same choice.”

That’s an example of one answer Hagel could have offered. He didn’t.

Then there was Hagel’s clumsy responses regarding Iran. There was rampant stupidity by both Hagel and Senator Gillibrand on this question:

Iran will pose an existential threat to the United States? What utter nonsense. No, even with a dozen nukes in its arsenal, Iran does not and will not pose a threat to the United States that would exterminate us as a nation. Please. Enough with this kind of ignorant pandering to Israel.

Hagel’s comment that Iran has a legitimate government came in the context of explaining why he did not vote to designate Iran’s Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist entity. He did a poor job of explaining that we should not waste time designating a component of Iran’s intelligence and military service as a terrorist entity since we have already designated Iran as a State Sponsor of Terrorism. While Iran is a legitimate nation and is recognized as such by other governments, the United Nations and the International Court at the Hague, it is still engaged in activities that the United States views as detrimental to our interests and to the interests of our allies in the Middle East.

Indulging juvenile, specious arguments about whether Iran is a legitimate government provides no guidance whatsoever on what our policy should be with respect to Iran. On that specific issue it is clear that the majority of our political leaders are hell bent on going to war with Iran. That is an insane, damaging policy. So what if Iran has nuclear weapons? Iran has shown clearly over the past thirty years that it has a healthy self-interest and is not keen on committing suicide. The mullahs that lead Iran understand that a nuclear strike on Israel would be reciprocated and would in fact pose an existential threat to Iran. Their quest for nukes is very simple–join the nuclear club and create an immediate deterrent to those nations who might otherwise be tempted to launch a military strike against Tehran.

Unfortunately, there is no one on the national stage in either the Obama Administration or the Republican Party who are willing to have a sane, grounded conversation about these matters. Despite the dramatic insistence by opponents of Hagel that there is no such thing as a “Jewish lobby,” there is in fact such a lobby, which is in bed with conservative Christian groups, and are ready to punish any politician who dare even discuss the possibility of finding an accommodation with Iran.

I am surprised by how shallow Hagel appeared during his testimony. Instead of thoughtful, intelligence discussion, he opted for the path of political pandering and shadow dancing. In that regard he is a perfect fit for Obama.

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Larry C. Johnson is a former analyst at the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, who moved subsequently in 1989 to the U.S. Department of State, where he served four years as the deputy director for transportation security, antiterrorism assistance training, and special operations in the State Department's Office of Counterterrorism. He left government service in October 1993 and set up a consulting business. He currently is the co-owner and CEO of BERG Associates, LLC (Business Exposure Reduction Group) and is an expert in the fields of terrorism, aviation security, and crisis and risk management, and money laundering investigations. Johnson is the founder and main author of No Quarter, a weblog that addresses issues of terrorism and intelligence and politics. NoQuarterUSA was nominated as Best Political Blog of 2008.