Martin Bashir | January 31, 2013
>>> and we begin with clashes on capitol hill with president obama 's second-term cabinet facing its first real fight. the confirmation for chuck hagel has just resumed. hagel is again being grilled by his former senate colleagues to be the next secretary of defense. earlier no one brought the heat like hagel 's self-described old friend john mccain .
>> were you correct in your assessment?
>> well, i would defer to the judgment of history to sort that out, but --
>> the committee deserves your judgment as to whether you were right or wrong about the surge.
>> i'll explain why i made those comments --
>> i want to know if you were right or wrong. that's a direct question . i expect a direct answer.
>> the surge assisted in the objective, but if we review the record a little bit --
>> 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? yes or no?
>> when given a chance to respond, here is what hagel said.
>> 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 point found broad support in our latest nbc news/" wall street journal " poll with nearly 6 in 10 americans saying the entire iraq war was not worth it. let's remember that the mccain / hagel grudge goes way back to comments, well, like these.
>> well, i think our invasion and occupation of iraq represents one of the great blunters of american history , and we will pay a high price for this for a long time.
>> now, that would be in march 2008 . you remember, it's the year that barack obama won his first term as president defeating none other than john mccain . do you think mccain is still angry that hagel backed obama ? holding a judge? no, never. if mccain played the betrayed besty, fellow republican lindsey graham took the role of disappointed dad over his remarks about the, quote, jewish lobby .
>> give me an example of where we've been intimidated by the israeli jewish lobby to do something dumb. regarding the middle east , israel , or anywhere else.
>> well, i can't give you an example.
>> thank you. do you agree with me you shouldn't have said something like that?
>> not to be outdone, freshman senator ted cruz played the new kid on the block going multimedia and playing a video of a collar to an al jazeera broadcast.
>> the caller suggests that the nation of israel has committed war crimes , and your response to that was not to dispute that characterization. i'd like to ask you, do you think the nation of israel has committed war crimes ?
>> no, i do not.
>> cruz also asked hagel to defend himself against an e-mail from that same broadcast and actually took a statement about the quote sickening slaughter in the middle east wildly out of context. senator cruz is certainly looking to be the next gop star. let's get right to our panel. msnbc political analyst jonathan alter joins me. a columnist for bloomberg view. in washington msnbc political analyst david corn of " mother jones " magazine. david , i want to start with you. we're going to come back to the newcomer ted cruz in just a moment, but the exchange between the old friends john mccain and mr. hagel , that was pretty tough, and i found it a little bit ironic that you had the sort of maverick going after the maverick on yet an issue that seemed very personal and that was sort of relitigating the iraq war , which was kind of their first break as friends.
>> it was maverick on maverick violence. this is as close as we get to soap opera at a congressional hearing . you felt it, it was visceral, it was personal, and john mccain was being, let's face it, a bully. he was demanding that chuck hagel give him a yes or no answer when, indeed, this matter, if you ask a lot of foreign policy experts, is kind of knotty. it's a dilemma. there's some people who believe the surge was a clear-cut win, but there are a lot of people in the foreign policy community who say that it might not have been a clear-cut victory or success, that it might have succeeded because they got lucky and ethnic cleansing had sort of led to a decrease in violence to begin with and that it certainly did not create the political space that it was supposed to create, the political consolidation that people wanted to see in iraq . so it's a very complicated issue. you know what? john mccain knows that. but the surge is his baby. it's what he ran on in 2008 . he lost and he's out for revenge.
>> and chuck hagel was -- it was a very important moment when chuck hagel as a republican came out against the surge. that was a big deal to them. jonathan, it also struck me watching these hearings just how differently mccain and hagel seem to have been impacted by their vietnam experience. hagel was quoted in vietnam magazine last fall saying, quote, the night tom and i were medevacked out of that village in april 1968 , i told myself if i ever get out of this and i'm ever in a position to influence policy, i will do everything i can to avoid needless, senseless war. now, that seems like a very sensible response. that also seems like a response that will color his judgment certainly as we look at winding down the war in afghanistan and sort of the rest of our presence in the middle east . and yet republicans seem to be using that against him.
>> well, a little context. the tom that he refers to is his brother, tom hagel , who amazingly enough was in the same unit in vietnam .
>> and they were both injured.
>> chuck hagel saved his life. and then tom became a liberal and chuck became a conservative. and in 2000 i remember traveling with the mccain campaign. chuck hagel was one of the only members of the senate on the republican side who endorsed mccain , not george w. bush that year, and they were very close friends , bonded by this vietnam experience. but men in war take different lessons. more often i think they go the hagel way, which is having seen war up close, they don't want to have other young men experience it if they don't need to. hagel , i think, restrained himself when mccain was acting like a bully today. he could have turned on him and said, you know, senator, yes or no, was going into iraq which cost more than 5,000 american lives and maimed permanently tens of thousands of americans, was that worth it? you supported it. was it worth it? he didn't do that. because obviously --
>> he knew that would not be a good idea.
>> if you're the witness in a senate hearing, obviously you can't do that, but my point is this is not about the surge. it's about the larger question of whether it was right or wrong for us to be in iraq in the first place.
>> and if you look at how mccain 's responded to that experience over the years, you have to say it's the complete opposite to the sentiments you just quoted from chuck hagel . you know, his convention speech in tampa, it seemed as if he was calling for six more wars and you remember when he ran in 2008 , he would joke and say bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb iran . his approach to bringing the united states into conflict is not as somber. i hate to say this about somebody, but doesn't seem to be as somber and as well-considered as chuck hagels.
>> it's just about torture, which he experienced personally.
>> again, i think what we saw today on -- during the hearing was a very -- a more personal conversation both about iraq but also about sort of, you know, one breaking with the other, particularly given their history, but also it strikes me that this is, david , kind of the broader context of the republicans sort of concerns about president obama . when they talk about leading from behind and when the president talks about let's use the military force as a last resort. it seemed like part of what the republicans were trying to do today was make sure that they pressed chuck hagel to be -- make it clear he will be very tough when it comes to the use of forces.
>> well, i think the gop showed it's still the war party in a lot of ways. no second thoughts about iraq or even, you know, the way afghanistan was prosecuted. and they were bashing chuck hagel for agreeing with his boss in many ways and one of the most absurd moments was when senator inhofe, the ranking republican, went after chuck hagel for being part of global zero, an international group that wants to get rid of all nuclear weapons, not unilaterally. ronald reagan had the same goal and people like senator sam nunn and former ambassador burt have been in favor of things like this, too. and inhofe just acted like hagel was some commie pinkco.
>> hagel was not really prepared.
>> the overall sense we're getting in terms of the early reports and obviously the hearings are still ongoing was hagel did not come off as prepared and did not seem to be doing very well. is that going to hurt his chances?
>> it could. the next 24 to 48 hours are very important in terms of this nomination. he made some missteps on iran . he suggested we have a policy of containment towards iran , which is not true. that is no the obama policy.
>> he then corrected himself though. gee has corrected himself but he needs to get on his game here or he could see his support erode. as it is, he's going to have to hold all of the democrats or almost all of them in order to be confirmed.
>> you know, david , let's take a quick listen to lindsey graham and then we'll get your reaction.
>> are we at war?
>> we're at war in afghanistan . we're at war around the world with active --
>> so you agree -- do you agree that every senator, every member of congress should be wide-eyed in understanding that when you vote on a defense budget , we're at war?
>> that was sort of a question in the form of a threat, but it's really a question about a changing military, isn't it, and sort of changing budgets and the changing reality of the challenges we're facing.
>> well, what's funny is a lot of these senators are acting like this is new, all of a sudden we have a new obama foreign policy that chuck hagel is going to ram through somehow. for the last four years the president has been giving speeches, more importantly, acting consistent with a belief that we have to shift our view to conflict overseas, what acts of war we do prepare for, what we eschew and hague sel is sort of in line with that thinking. this debate is not a new debate. obama has won election twice with this sort of policy. these guys are like generals fighting the last war --
>> and, of course, chuck hagel would be the first head of the pentagon who was a grunt, who was an enlisted man. this would be a very important gesture. there are enlisted men and women all owe over this country for whom this would be a big deal to have one of their own at the top. that has not been talked about nearly enough.
>> we are going to leave it there and we will see, as you pointed out, how this unfolds over the next 24 to 48 hours to see if he makes it through. thank you, david corn and jonathan alter .