Bridget Johnson reported earlier on WH spokesman Jay Carney’s positive take on former Sen. Chuck Hagel’s nomination hearings Thursday. According to Carney, Hagel answered the questions put to him “appropriately” and that overall, he did just fine.
Privately, though, the Obama White House is telling a very different story. According to a report in the New York Times, Hagel not only failed to answer appropriately, he failed to describe the Obama administration’s position on Iran coherently. Hagel told the committee that he agrees with the administration’s “containment” policy regarding Iran’s nuclear weapons program. The problem is, that’s not the Obama administration’s public position.
“It’s somewhere between baffling and incomprehensible,” a member of Mr. Obama’s own team of advisers on Iran said on Thursday night when asked about Mr. Hagel’s stumbling performance on the question during the all-day hearing. The worry was evident in the voice of the official, who would not speak on the record while criticizing the performance of the president’s nominee. For those who question whether the no-containment cornerstone of the Obama approach to Tehran is for real, or just diplomatic rhetoric, Mr. Hagel clearly muddled the message, he said.
Hagel got the position right in his prepared, pre-written opening remarks that had been vetted by the administration. Then he got it wrong under questioning. And then, he just made a hash of it all.
Mr. Hagel went down a different road. “I support the president’s strong position on containment,” he said, appearing, perhaps by imprecision, to suggest that the president’s view was that a nuclear Iran could be contained. (Mr. Obama has gone on to explain that containment would fail because other players in the neighborhood – probably led by Saudi Arabia – would race for the bomb as soon as Iran had one.)
Then an aide slipped a piece of paper to Mr. Hagel. He glanced at it, then said: “By the way, I’ve just been handed a note that I misspoke and said I supported the president’s position on containment. If I said that, it meant to say that obviously — on his position on containment — we don’t have a position on containment.”
The fact that Hagel got it right in the remarks that the administration had vetted, then got it wrong under questioning, suggests that he at best he simply doesn’t understand the administration’s policy — a policy he is being vetted to implement. At worst, “containment” is actually the Obama policy, and Hagel accidentally let the cat of of the bag.
The distinction is important. If containment really is the Obama policy, then the president fully intends to allow the Iranians to develop and acquire nuclear weapons. Then, the thinking goes, they could be “contained” in the way the Soviet nuclear arsenal was contained during the Cold War. The large gap in that thinking is in the nature of the two very different regimes. The secular Soviets could be expected to act rationally in order to preserve themselves. They wanted to take over the world, not destroy it or get themselves destroyed in the process. Some members of the apocalyptic Iranian regime have stated that it will use its nuclear weapons to wipe Israel off the map and usher in a war that would lead to the emergence of the Islamic messiah. “Containment” would not be effective, once such a genocidal regime obtains the weapons it seeks.
Hagel’s testimony has raised the possibility that containment really is his and Barack Obama’s policy, they just have no plans to tell the American people. Plus, Chuck Hagel is an awful secret keeper.