The Rachel Maddow Show | January 31, 2013
>> this hour. when mitt romney won the republican presidential nomination this past year, it was not his first try at winning that nomination. mitt romney had also run in 2008 . remember? he lost to john mccain that year. but that year, 2008 , also was not john mccain 's first effort at winning the republican presidential nomination . he had run before as well. he had run in the year 2000 , when he lost to george w. bush . and while that john mccain campaign and his loss that year has mostly been remembered for the egregiously racist dirty tricks played against john mccain in the south carolina primary that year, that's mostly what we think of when we think of him losing to george w. bush that year, now what is starting to become the more salient thing about that losing run, about that losing attempt at winning the republican presidential nomination , what seems more salient now is who john mccain 's national co-chair was for that run. it was republican senator chuck hagel . there he is. you can see him in the little circle on the left there. with john mccain 's entourage as john mccain was getting ready to launch his presidential bid back in 2000 . this is the same chuck hagel who is president obama 's nominee for defense secretary now and who john mccain spent the day today vilifying and attacking as manifestly unqualified for that job. back in the day john mccain not only was kind of best buddies with chuck hagel , but he specifically said that he thought chuck hagel would make an awesome defense secretary someday.
>> as far as secretary of defense is concerned, there's a lot of people that could do that. one of them i think is senator chuck hagel .
>> john mccain and chuck hagel were so close that in 2000 , when john mccain realized that he was not going to get the presidential nomination , when john mccain decided he had to give up that bitterly fought nomination battle, the person his campaign put out to speak to the press the day he made his decision to withdraw was his dear friend, old chuck.
>> two aides tell nbc news that the arizona senator will announce a suspension of his quest for the white house . back in arizona after his crushing defeat on super tuesday mccain called supporters to thank them.
>> we're glad to be home.
>> nebraska senator chuck hagel , who spoke to mccain three times yesterday, believes mccain will stay in the republican party .
>> he understands the big picture here.
>> as you can tell from looking at this footage, as you can tell specifically from the evolution of the eye bags and the hairdos over time , that whole thing between chuck hague sxl john mccain was a long while ago. chuck hagel as john mccain 's campaign co-chair, as the top of his short list for defense secretary , that was more than 12 years ago now. but the thing that happened, the thing that turned john mccain from someone who wanted himself to nominate chuck hagel for defense into a guy who was angrily and with palpable disgust leading the opposition now to the nomination of chuck hagel for defense, the thing that happened between those two different john mccains is not just the passage of time. what happened between those two john mccains is the iraq war .
>> do you believe that the people of iraq , or at least a large number of them, will treat us as liberators?
>> i believe we can win an overwhelming victory in a very short period of time.
>> i believe that the success will be fairly easy.
>> easy. john mccain was wrong about the iraq war . he was factually wrong about why we needed to start the iraq war . he was wrong about how the iraq war would go. he was wrong about how the iraq war would end. early on he was not just a yes vote for the iraq war . he was an enthusiastic proponent of how good an idea it would be to start that war in iraq . it was a bad idea to start that war in iraq . we can say that now, right? is it controversial to say that the iraq war was a bad idea? aren't we sort of all on board with that now? at the outset of the iraq war john mccain , of course, was not alone. john mccain and chuck hagel both supported the iraq war initially, as did people like john kerry and hillary clinton and joe biden and dianne feinstein and chuck schumer and 24 other democrats in the senate and all but one of the republicans in the senate all voted yes. and yeah, there were democrats who were against the war from the beginning. and that one republican, lincoln chaffee . but there were enough democrats who said yes and went along with it. that's part of the reason the war happened. the difference over time is that republican chuck hagel and most of the democrats who were wrong about iraq , they figured out that they were wrong and they turned against the war and ultimately they tried to end the war because it had been a mistake. we can say mistake in the technical sense here, right? the war was started to go get weapons of mass destruction from saddam and to stop saddam from helping al qaeda . well, saddam had no relationship with al qaeda that we were stopping. and saddam had no weapons of mass destruction . it was wrong. the war was factually wrong. right? we have learned that. this is not a controversial assertion. john mccain led the senate today in trying ton just stop chuck hagel from being confirmed as defense secretary . he tried to stop chuck hagel from being k06r7 ing confirmed as defense secretary specifically by trying to force chuck hagel to admit, admit it, admit, it that he was the one who was wrong about iraq , that chuck hagel had been wrong to turn against that war.
>> as late as august 29th , 2011 you said, "i disagreed with president obama 's decision to surge in iraq as i did with president bush on the surge in iraq ." do you stand by that -- those comments, senator hagel ?
>> well, senator, i stand by them because i made them.
>> do you -- were you right? were you correct in your assessment?
>> well, i would defer to the judgment of history to sort that out. but i'll --
>> i think the economy 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?
>> my reference to the surge --
>> are you answering the question, senator hagel ? the question is were you right or wrong? that's a pretty straightforward question.
>> well --
>> i would like the answer whether you were right or wrong, and then you are free to elaborate.
>> well, i'm not going to give you a yes or no answer on a lot of things.
>> well, let the record show you refused to answer that question. now please go ahead.
>> well, if you would like me to explain why --
>> i actually would like an answer. yes or no?
>> well, i'm not going to give you a yes or no. i think it's far more complicated than that.
>> senator mccain and a lot of republican washington is banking on the lesson learned from the iraq war , being that we should have started that war, we should have escalated that war, we should have kept that war going, and now ten years on our only regret about the iraq war should be that we're not still there. and the only thing wrong with the whole iraq war experience is that it had to end. i do not think that is what america thinks is the only thing that was wrong with the iraq war . the country does not look back at the iraq war and think, hmm, good move. the country does not wish we were still there. the country does not think the people who wanted to start the war and keep it going there were right. in the nbc poll at the end of the president's first term, when americans were asked, what is the single greatest accomplishment of president obama 's first term in office, killing bin laden came in second. what came in first was ending the iraq war . better than bin laden . but the remaining diehard enthusiasts for the iraq war , whose political careers survived even the end of that war, have an obvious self-refrntial reason to try to make the country believe that there is no real lesson learned from iraq , that in fact it was an awesome idea and anyone against it has explaining to do about being against it. with bitter party of one john mccain taking point for the republican party on this, that weirdly revisionist agenda about iraq today became the centerpiece of how they are trying to stop the defense secretary nomination of john mccain 's old friend chuck hagel . i do not think the country's going to go along with him on this. but you can kind of see why they'd want to try to do it, right? joining us now is steve clemons with the new america foundation. steve writes at the editor at large. steve thanks so much for being here.
>> good to be with you, rachel.
>> in that face-off between john mccain and chuck hagel we're obviously seeing a great difference in temperament, a great difference in focus. but how do you -- a, how do you judge that face off? but how also do you compare the way these two men view the bush-era wars in afghanistan and iraq ? what's the difference between them?
>> well, a couple of things. first of all, chuck hagel probably deserves another purple heart after today's hearing. and i think the other thing you saw, two great heroes, two titans of american senatorial politics really, john mccain and chuck hagel , who ripped apart over a very principal difference about deploying men and women in iraq . and that is i think really the crux of it. i don't think hagel wanted to tell john mccain that oh, your policy may have appeared cosmetically to succeed in a really failed war that didn't move the dial and if you take a look at it, you know, hagel snuck in some very important data points . 1,200 americans died during that time, thousands of others wounded. and by the way, if you take a look at the scene, much of the sunni leadership in iraq had been run out of the country. by maliki. and the experiment looks fragile. so what did you get? and many people think it wasn't the deployment of the u.s. forces , it was the essentially hiring or bribing, if you will, of young sunnis that helped stabilize that. so there's a legitimate conversation that could be had. and john mccain didn't want a conversation. he wanted to enforce an orthodoxy about his role and that war and that surge because that's the dividing line for him about who's a real patriot and who's not. and that fundamentally was what much of the hearing was about today. are you genuinely a patriot and see the world like we in the kind of national security hawk wing of the gop do, or do -- but i think hagel , you know, while he's not going to be given credits for the most eloquent glad-handing senator or defense secretary , he seemed like a thought. sergeant who had been on the front line , who gave i think a very compelling set of reasons why this surge didn't deserve a binary yes-no response.
>> steve , big picture , you're talking about how john mccain made his role in the politics of this very central to today's hearing, and i hear that's absolutely what happened. and that's absolutely one of the things that's so important even beyond this nomination. i mean, looking at james inhofe stumbling over trying to attack chuck hagel on nuclear issues and other things, looking at kelly ayotte not seeming to know very much about what she was talking about and we've been told to expect so much from her, seeing ted cruz come in there and try a sort of like cable news-style stunt against chuck hagel that really fell flat, i mean, seeing john mccain amid his -- essentially his competition for the front-runner on foreign policy and national defense issues in the republican party , really it seems like he is still the guy who speaks for them with any level of credibility. and he is absolutely fixated on saying that the iraq war was a good idea. and i wonder what you think that has as an impact in terms of broader republican foreign policy politics.
>> well, i think it keeps it a very narrow band. i found it very odd that in today's hearing you had so much discussion of iraq and a war that has already happened and been shut down. very little mention of afghanistan , in which you still have 66,000 u.s. troops deployed, in which there are a lot of equities for the country to be sorted out. and you just didn't seem to have an appetite or interest -- mccain did mention it very briefly, but that was about it. today on afghanistan . which is kind of a near and current concern for the country. and you've got u.s. servicemen and women. so we're relitigating old conflicts in kind of a bizarre way. i do have to say that while kelly ayotte was tough, kelly ayotte , jeff sessions , roy blount demonstrated that they could have differences with hagel , they knew their stuff, and they demonstrated a civility in the way the senate's supposed to work, even if you don't agree. i was 140kd today by inhofe, who essentially asked hagel if he was sort of a traitor to some degree in his comments and questions about the iranian foreign ministry 's alleged support for hagel , which they didn't actually mention hagel , but matt drudge said it was about hague sxl inhofe took that in. it was a remarkable comment for someone who was a new steward, had stewardship responsibilities as the ranking member of the armed services committee . so i worry a little bit not only about the narrow band that john mccain casts over what we can discuss in national security issues. i also worry to some degree about a bizarre theater in one of the most important committees in the united states senate .
>> yeah. seeing the blog world just spelled out. i mean, i love blogs, but as a member of the senate on this committee with this point i would not be dragging that stuff into that hearing room. steve clemons of the new america foundation, washington editor at large at "the atlantic," thank you for being here, steve . it's always great to see you.
>> thanks, rachel.
>> all right. we've got another packed show tonight, including the absolute best reason to watch the super bowl . with all due respect to the ravens and the 49ers and beyonce beyonce, we've got a better reason. lots more to come.