January 31st, 2013
12:34 PM ET
10 years ago

Old friends McCain and Hagel spar at hearing

Washington (CNN) – Sen. John McCain fired away at Cabinet nominee Chuck Hagel during his confirmation hearing Thursday on Capitol Hill, repeatedly interrupting his old friend and accusing him of refusing to answer direct questions.

The sharp exchange marked a years-long falling out between two long-time friends and colleagues. Thirteen years ago, McCain, then a presidential candidate, named Chuck Hagel as a man he'd like to see run the Defense Department.

But more than a decade later, McCain relentlessly tore into that same man, now a former Nebraska senator and nominated to that very post by McCain rival President Barack Obama.

"Let the record show that he refused to answer that question," McCain said during the markedly heated back-and-forth.

McCain's question – about whether Hagel repudiated his opposition to the 2007 troop surge in Iraq – was the origin of a deep policy split between the former allies.

In 2007 Hagel called the George W. Bush administration's surge proposal "the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam," while McCain threw his support behind the move – which is now widely considered to have been a success.

In his 2008 presidential battle against McCain, then-Senator Barack Obama reversed his position on the surge, acknowledging it had achieved its objectives.

On Thursday, McCain pushed Hagel to reconsider his position.

"The Committee deserves your judgment as to whether you were right or wrong about the surge," McCain said. "Are you going to answer the question, Senator Hagel? The question is were you right or wrong. That's a pretty straightforward question. I would like to answer it with whether you were right or wrong and then you are free to elaborate."

Hagel would not answer yes or no, but instead offered to explain what he said was a nuanced position.

"Well, I'm not gonna give you a yes or no," he said. "I think it's far more complicated than that and as I've already said, my answer is I'll defer that judgment to history."

McCain offered a stern rebuke.

"I think history has already made a judgment about the surge, sir, and you're on the wrong side of it and your refusal to answer whether you were right or wrong about it, it's going to have an impact on my judgment as to whether to vote for your confirmation or not," McCain said. "I hope you will reconsider the fact that you refused to answer a fundamental question about an issue that took the lives of thousands of young Americans."

Filed under: Chuck Hagel • John McCain
soundoff (62 Responses)
  1. Bill from GA

    Would someone ask McCain if he was right or wrong about the 4 or 5 Navy jets he crashed due to his bad judgement and/or incompetence?

    Oh, that's right, he's a War Hero. We can't question his judgement.

    January 31, 2013 03:28 pm at 3:28 pm |
  2. Strategic Bob

    Did the surge work? Well, it worked if the real intent was to damp down the violence for a while and create, long enough for Bush to get the hell out of Washington with some semblance of dignity, the appearance that Iraq might finally be going well. But if the intent was to turn Iraq from being the single biggest strategic military and national security disaster in the history of the country into something approaching a success story,, then you have to go with Hagel and say that it is too soon to tell. Complicated situations like this can take decades, or even longer, to know how they turn out. It's like Zhou En Lai reportedly said when he was asked for his opinion on the French revolution – "too soon to say." The one thing we do know about Iraq is that, no matter how it turns out, it will not have been worth the cost in lives lost and national treasure squandered. McCain is an old fool who is incapable of learning from the past or accepting that he spent years in a North Vietnamese prison because his country sent him on a foo's mission. But at least he is a lucky fool – he came home alive.

    January 31, 2013 03:29 pm at 3:29 pm |
  3. McCain At Bottom of His Class at Annapolis

    It is a shame to see John McCain continue to make a fool out of of himself at the end of his career. The Palin thing is a remarkable lapse in judgement. Now, is tawdry, hawkish behavior just looks ignorant.

    January 31, 2013 03:32 pm at 3:32 pm |
  4. Bob

    McCain has no credibility left. He's going after Hagel by arguing that Hagel was against the surge and was "wrong" about it. Hundreds of thousands of ethnically cleansed Iraqis would agree the surge did nothing but lead to more killing. And someone needs to ask McCain was HE right about the need to go into Iraq because of 9/11 and WMDs? Also, McCain said we needed to have ground troops in Egypt. If we'd listened to his sage advice, we'd be mired in ground wars in Egypt, Syria, and Tunisia (and 25 trillion in debt). And let's not forget his VP pick, Sarah Palin. So McCain questioning ANYONE's judgement is just ludicrous.

    January 31, 2013 03:41 pm at 3:41 pm |
  5. Basil

    Take this Old Geezer, Maccain and place him in a nursing home. This old man has been nothing more than a burden. Let him join Palin in Wasella watching PUTIN from her porch. PLEASE

    January 31, 2013 03:43 pm at 3:43 pm |
  6. Bob

    My favorite attack was by Ted Cruz. He said it was wrong the a U.S. Senator should appear on a foreign news show. Excuse me? Ted Cruz has been on the BBC lots of time. Oh, wait. He meant a MUSLIM-owned news network (but was too chicken to say it). Unfortunately for Cruz, Cruz himself has appeared dozens of times on Fox News whose number two shareholder is the Saudi Royal Family and is completely foreign-owned. So just what kind of terrorist sympathizer is Cruz? Gee, ever wonder why Fox (and Cruz) are so eager to get us to invade Iran and try to dismiss and green energy talks? Probably because the biggest oil exporter in the world pays their salaries.

    January 31, 2013 03:45 pm at 3:45 pm |
  7. Dan Moody

    In 2000, in Chicago, I stood in line for hours for John McCain to autograph my copy of his book. He is the only person I have ever given money to for his campagain, there was nobody who esteemed and respected him more than I. It wasn't just today but the last years, I thank him for his service and sacrifices but he is nothing but a bitter idiot and he needs to go. He no longer has any honor. As for LIndsey Grahm, we are Israel's allie they are not ours. Do they give us money, how many troops do they have in Iraq, or Afghanastan??? Allies are two way streets and ours with them is not that way. If the American people support that fine, but use the correct words. Can you imagine the reaction if US Senators kissed the behind of Great Britian like they do Israel???? They need to quit being afraid of Americans with 2 passports.

    January 31, 2013 03:49 pm at 3:49 pm |
  8. CB FL

    Someone needs to change his diaper. He sounds like a child with diaper rash.

    January 31, 2013 03:56 pm at 3:56 pm |
  9. LIP

    As a Repuiblican, I will defer to Hagels' response as making the most sense. People will argue about the iraq war and the surge for decades and still come to no conclusion.

    January 31, 2013 03:59 pm at 3:59 pm |
  10. Mighty

    John McCain questioning sombody's judgement! This is the guy who chose Sara Palin for Vice President, Who allow himself to be captured in Vietnam during wich time divulge higly classified information about the United States. Ge real John you are a whimp. Your are just mad the the Sgt is going to be the Defense Guy.

    January 31, 2013 04:02 pm at 4:02 pm |
  11. Facts don't Lie

    I was never really a big fan of Kay Bailey H down here in Texas BUT I would take her in a heartbeat over the moron our state sent in her place. Ted Cruz was backed by Tea Party money and has no more business being in the senate than I would. His attack on a decorated veteran you know the type the GOP is supposed to support and fawn over and the liberals are supposed to loathe is nothing more than playing to his looney TP base. He so far is an embarassment to Texas politics but that is something we should be used to down here, right Gov. Perry?

    January 31, 2013 04:05 pm at 4:05 pm |
  12. CESWEETON USNavy 78-86

    Is McCain attempting to clear his own Record regarding Iraq, by saying "I was right about the Surge"??? He's deflecting the Real Story which is "We never should've gone into Iraq in the first place, and the Surge just added to the number of US Troops and Iraqis that Died in a War based on a LIE"... How can McCain take pride in the Surge, when 4,500 US Troops and over 100,000 Iraqis Died, because we were LIED to about Saddam having WMDs???

    As to Graham's hang-up on Israel, maybe he should ask the Surviors of the USS Liberty if Israel is an Ally???

    January 31, 2013 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
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