Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., right, asks a question of former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., right, asks a question of former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel. Susan Walsh/AP

If you want a friend in Washington, don’t call John McCain

During confirmation hearings Thursday, the Arizona senator tore into his his "old friend" Chuck Hagel in a ritual display of D.C. hypocrisy.

In the real world, when somebody calls you an old friend, it matters. You can take them at their word. In Washington, ground zero for hypocrisy and posturing, "friend" is a 4-letter word. "Old friend" is double trouble.

"I'm pleased to see an old friend in front of the committee," Senator John McCain said Thursday in welcoming Secretary of Defense-designee Chuck Hagel to the Senate Armed Services Committee. The panel is reviewing Hagel's qualifications to succeed Leon Panetta.

"Our concerns," McCain continued, speaking for Hagel's other GOP critics, "pertain to the quality of your professional judgment."

Ouch.

Just four years ago, McCain and Hagel were personally and politically close, bound by their service in Vietnam and their well-polished maverick GOP brands. McCain, the GOP's 2008 presidential nominee, said that year he would be honored to put Hagel in his Cabinet. He even embraced a rumor that then-Senator Barack Obama might pick Hagel as a running mate.

Times have changed McCain from a party-bucking, bipartisan-minded senator to a hard-line conservative and hawk. Hagel has evolved less, if at all. The men drifted apart over foreign policy, associates say. They point to the fact that McCain, famously opinionated and stubborn, has especially little patience for people he believes waver on war.

The Shakespearian encounter between McCain and Hagel is emblematic of Washington, where shallow friendships, intense polarization, and rampant hypocrisy flourish. It was all on display Thursday as Hagel dodged and stumbled over attempts by Republicans to hold him accountable for past statements on Iraq, Israel, Syria, and other trouble spots. McCain is angry that Hagel opposed the "surge" of forces in Iraq under President Bush. McCain wanted his old pal to admit he was wrong about Iraq and suggested that Hagel's acquiescence was his price for an affirmative vote on confirmation.

Hagel wasn't buying it. "I'll defer that answer to history," he replied when McCain asked whether he stood by his anti-surge comments.

McCain demanded: Were you right or wrong about the surge? "Yes or no?" he snapped. "My reference ..." Hagel said before being interrupted by McCain.

"Are you going to answer the question, Senator Hagel?"

"I'm not going to give you a yes or no answer," Hagel replied. He attempted to explain that his comments were in opposition to the entire effort in Iraq, an unpopular war Hagel called a "war of choice."

McCain harrumphed. "You were on the wrong side of history," he told his dear old pal.

Hagel is likely to be confirmed, but neither the former senator nor his critics fared well Thursday. The hearing opened with predictable posturing by Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, the Michigan Democrat who carried Obama's water, and James Inhofe, the Oklahoma Republican leading the opposition.

Calling Hagel a friend, Levin outlined a series of "troubling statements" the former Nebraska senator made opposing sanctions against Iran, supporting unconditional talks with Tehran, criticizing the pro-Israel lobbying apparatus, and opposing efforts to isolate Hamas as a terrorist organization.

And then, rather than holding Hagel accountable for his past statements and record, Levin explained why he will vote to confirm the nominee. "The president needs to have a secretary of Defense in whom he can trust."

Calling Hagel "a good man," Inhofe said he would vote against his former colleague because his record "is deeply troubling and out of the mainstream." He accused Hagel of appeasing U.S. enemies and knocking its allies, namely Israel.

In response, Hagel thanked his good friends and quickly walked away from his past. "I'm on the record on many issues," he said. "But not one individual vote, not one quote ... defines me."

Hagel and his pals have that in common -- they are not defined by a single thing. Unlike friends in the real world, you can't take these folks at their word.

NEXT STORY: Play of the Day: El Nuevo Deal

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.