Thank Goodness For That Surge
It is my favorite line in literature, one I most recently quoted in this Valentine's Day post about Simpson-Bowles. Shilling for the tyrant Napoleon, Squealer rhetorically asks "One false step and our enemies would be upon us. Surely, comrades, you don't want Jones to come back?"
Well, when you put it that way, of course we don't!
And so we go to the infamous grilling (transcript here) by John McCain, member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, of former Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE), whom President Obama has nominated to head the Department of Defense. The exchange- presented in its entirety below- began as the Arizonan's opening statement ended:
Even as late as August 29th, 2011, in an interview — 2011 — you’d — in an interview with the Financial Times, you said, I disagreed with the president — Obama — his decision to surge in Iraq, as I did with President Bush on the surge in Iraq.
Do you — do you stand by that — those comments, Senator Hagel?
MR. HAGEL: Well, Senator, I stand by them because I made them. And –
SEN. MCCAIN: You stand by — were you right?
MR. HAGEL: Well –
SEN. MCCAIN: Were you correct in your assessment?
MR. HAGEL: Well, I would defer to the judgment of history to sort that out, but I’ll –
SEN. MCCAIN: I think — we — committee deserves your judgment as to whether you were right or wrong about the
MR. HAGEL: I’ll explain why I made those comments, and I believe I had, but –
SEN. MCCAIN: I want to know if you were right or wrong. That’s a direct question. I expect a direct answer.
MR. HAGEL: The surge assisted in the objective. But if we review the record a little bit –
SEN. MCCAIN: Will you please answer the question? Were you correct or incorrect when you said that the surge would
be the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam? Were you correct or incorrect?
MR. HAGEL: My –
SEN. MCCAIN: Yes or no?
MR. HAGEL: My reference to the surge being both dangerous –
SEN. MCCAIN: Are you going to answer the question, Senator Hagel? The question is, were you right or wrong? That’s a
pretty straightforward question.
MR. HAGEL: Well –
SEN. MCCAIN: I will — I would like to answer whether you were right or wrong, and then you are free to elaborate.
MR. HAGEL: Well, I’m not going to give you a yes or no answer on a lot of things today.
SEN. MCCAIN: Well, let the record show that you refused to answer that question.
Now please go ahead.
MR. HAGEL: Well, if you would like me to explain why –
SEN. MCCAIN: Oh, I actually would like an answer. Yes or no.
MR. HAGEL: Well, I’m not going to give you a yes or no.
SEN. MCCAIN: OK.
MR. HAGEL: I think it’s far more complicated than that. As I’ve already said, my answer is I’ll defer that judgment to history.
As to the comment I made about the most dangerous foreign policy decision since Vietnam — was about not just the surge but the overall war of choice going into Iraq. That particular decision that was made on the surge, but more to the point, our war in Iraq, I think was the most fundamentally bad, dangerous decision since Vietnam. Aside from the costs that occurred in this country to blood and treasure, aside what that did to take our focus off of Afghanistan, which in fact was the original and real focus of a national threat to this country — Iraq was not — I always tried to frame all the different issues before I made a decision on anything.
Now just as you said, Senator, we can have differences of opinion.
SEN. MCCAIN: But –
MR. HAGEL: That’s essentially why I took the position I did.
SEN. MCCAIN: It’s fundamental difference of opinion, Senator Hagel. And Senator Graham and I and Senator Lieberman, when there were 59 votes in the United States Senate, spent our time trying to prevent that 60th. Thank God for Senator Lieberman.
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 is going to have an impact on my judgment as to whether vote for your confirmation or not. 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.
MR. HAGEL: Well, Senator, there was more to it than just flooding a zone –
SEN. MCCAIN: I’m asking about the surge, Senator Hagel.
MR. HAGEL: I know you are, and I’m trying to explain my position. The beginning of the surge also factored in what General Allen had put into place in Anbar province, the Sunni Awakening.We put over, as you know, a hundred thousand young — (inaudible).
SEN. MCCAIN: Senator Hagel, I’m very aware of the history of the surge and the Anbar Awakening, and I also am aware that any casual observer will know that the surge was the fundamental factor, led by two great leaders, General Petraeus and Ambassador — (inaudible).
MR. HAGEL: Well, I don’t know if that would have been required and cost us over a thousand American lives and thousands of (wounded ?).
SEN. MCCAIN: So you don’t know if the surge would have been required? OK.
Senator Hagel, let me go back — go to Syria now. More than 60,000 people have been killed in Syria. Do you believe that we should be more engaged in Syria?
Twelve (12) times John McCain (in one form or another) asked former Senator Hagel, with whom he once was fairly close, whether he still believed the surge in Iraq was a mistake. Once, the Nebraskan gave the correct answer, replying "I would defer to the judgment of history to sort that" but in Senator McCain's uncomplicated worldview, only "yes" or a "no" is a legitimate answer.
But the twelfth effort at getting a simplistic answer out of the nominee is the most telling, and wonderfully ironic. After asking "So you don't know if the surge would have been required," McCain added "let me go back- go to Syria now. More than 60,000 people have been killed in Syria. Do you believe that we should be more engaged in Syria?"
Yes, Senator McCain, more than 60,000 people have been killed in an effort to overthrow a regime probably more deadly and dangerous than that of Saddam Hussein. Truth is, the election (such as it was) of Nouri al-Maliki as Prime Minister of Iraq seems to be having a significant impact on that civil war in Syria. On December 1 The New York Times reported
The American effort to stem the flow of Iranian arms to Syria has faltered because of Iraq’s reluctance to inspect aircraft carrying the weapons through its airspace, American officials say.
The shipments have persisted at a critical time for President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, who has come under increasing military pressure from rebel fighters. The air corridor over Iraq has emerged as a main supply route for weapons, including rockets, antitank missiles, rocket-propelled grenade and mortars.
Iran has an enormous stake in Syria, which is its staunchest Arab ally and has also provided a channel for Iran’s support to the Lebanese Islamist movement Hezbollah.
To the disappointment of the Obama administration, American efforts to persuade the Iraqis to randomly inspect the flights have been largely unsuccessful...
Regarding the arms shipments, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton secured a commitment from Iraq’s foreign minister in September that Iraq would inspect flights from Iran to Syria. But the Iraqis have inspected only two, most recently on Oct. 27. No weapons were found, but one of the two planes that landed in Iraq for inspection was on its way back to Iran after delivering its cargo in Syria.
Adding to the United States’ frustrations, Iran appears to have been tipped off by Iraqi officials as to when inspections would be conducted, American officials say, citing classified reports by American intelligence analysts.
Iran’s continued efforts to aid the Syrian government were described in interviews with a dozen American administration, military and Congressional officials, most of whom requested anonymity to discuss intelligence matters.
“The abuse of Iraqi airspace by Iran continues to be a concern,” an American official said. “We urge Iraq to be diligent and consistent in fulfilling its international obligations and commitments, either by continuing to require flights over Iraqi territory en route to Syria from Iran to land for inspection or by denying overflight requests for Iranian aircraft going to Syria.”
Iraqi officials insist that they oppose the ferrying of arms through Iraq’s airspace. They also cite claims by Iran that it is merely delivering humanitarian aid, and they call the American charges unfounded.
Oh, of course, they're unfounded, and Orethall James Simpson would have found the murderer of Nicole Simpson and Ron Goldman if only O.J. hadn't been diverted by committing an armed robbery. Meanwhile, those shipments of arms to Syria through Iraq continue, a few years after the smashing success of the surge John Sidney McCain is so enamored of.