Former Nebraska Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel and Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain engaged in a fierce debate over the success of the Iraq surge during Hagel’s confirmation hearing for defense secretary Thursday.
McCain opened his round of questioning by referring to Hagel’s comment after President George W. Bush announced his Iraq surge in 2007. “I think this speech given last night by this president represents the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam, if it’s carried out,” Hagel said at the time.
McCain then read quotes of Hagel still questioning the results of the surge, even as late as 2011.
“I would defer to the judgment of history to sort that out,” Hagel told McCain, when McCain pressed him to tell the committee if he was right that the surge would be a blunder.
“This committee deserves your judgment as to whether you were right or wrong about the surge,” McCain retorted. “I want to know if you were right or wrong. That’s a direction question. I expect a direct answer.”
“The surge assisted in the objective,” Hagel began to reply.
“Will you please answer the question,” McCain interrupted. “Were you correct or incorrect when you said the surge will be the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam? Were you correct or incorrect? Yes or no?”
After some more back and forth, Hagel declared: “My answer is I’ll defer that judgment to history.”
“I think history has already made the judgment about the surge, sir. And you’re on the wrong side of it,” McCain countered, saying Hagel’s stance (or lack thereof) on the surge will affect how he votes on his nomination.
But the fireworks weren’t quite over.
After more back and forth over the history of the surge, Hagel finally said, “Well I don’t know if that [the Iraq surge] would have been required and cost us over a 1,000 American lives and thousands …”
“So you don’t know if the surge would have been required. Okay,” McCain interrupted, concluding the surge debate.