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The Anti-Hagel Gambits: Clever, But Not Really That Clever

So what does all this latest angry maneuvering around former Senator Chuck Hagel's confirmation as secretary of defense amount to? Not that much, actually.

Hagel's die-hard neoconservative opponents, permanently angered by his opposition to an Iraq War which they can't admit was a debacle, keep trying to move the goalposts as they reach desperately for something, anything, with which to derail him. Which in a sense is irritating. And in another sense is simply lame.

But all it actually amounts to is a brief delay in Hagel's final confirmation. Well, I should say, that's all it amounts to if Senator John McCain's word is to be relied upon. Which, though he's been shifting around quite a bit lately, I believe it is.

An angry Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, perhaps rueing his decision not to do away with the filibuster, called a snap procedural vote Thursday afternoon to move Hagel's nomination as defense secretary forward past the thicket of procedural objections which amount to a filibuster, whether Republicans want to admit it or not.

Reid's move fell one vote short of the 60 needed to invoke cloture and move directly to a vote on the nominee, who needs only a majority vote to become the next secretary of defense. The final vote was 58 to 40, with one Republican senator, Utah's Orrin Hatch, voting present.

But the vote was actually 59 to 40, with Reid then switching his vote to "no" so as to enable him to bring up the vote again whenever he chooses.

There are several Republican senators beyond the handful who voted to end the filibuster, including Hatch, who say they will end the filibuster after some more questions are answered. Which will come after the week-long Presidents Day weekend break coming up.

Some of the questions the Republicans are posing in the meantime are legitimate, some are bogus.

Is it a good thing to know more about how the Obama Administration handled the Benghazi disaster in real time, in particular, what the president and his most senior associates did? Sure. Just as it is a good thing to know what George W. Bush and Dick Cheney were doing during the much greater disaster of allowing Osama bin Laden to slip away at Tora Bora in December 2001, just three months after the 9/11 attacks.

Which, come to think of it, I don't think we do know. Too bad the Democrats didn't make more of an issue of that.

Does this have anything to do with Hagel? Not really, as he had no involvement with Benghazi. But it does provide insight into the national command structure which he will soon be a part of.

Of course, the search for knowledge is not exactly what this exercise is about, at least for the loudest. Senator Lindsey Graham and others complain that Obama himself didn't call the Libyan leadership while Benghazi was going down, that instead it was "merely" Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Frankly, I think a call from Hillary is nearly as impressive.

A better question might be why we were so caught off guard in Benghazi in the first place, especially since it turns out to have been such a major base of operations for the CIA. Only a quarter of the Benghazi evacuees were State Dept. personnel, the rest were CIA. We should know what's going on with all the spooks around.

Still, Obama's leadership style is a legitimate line of inquiry.

What is bogus are the attempts to hold Hagel to a very different standard of disclosure than other appointees by demanding that not only his own sources of income be disclosed but those of the organizations and corporations he's been affiliated with. Which can't be done.

That's all about smearing Hagel as being the creature of evil foreign interests. Hmm, seems we've seen this movie before, with the Manchurian Candidate fantasies around Obama himself.

This time around, the cudgels of character assassination are in the hands of crude characters like Texas Senator Ted Cruz and Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe, who indulge in 21st century McCarthyism in implying that Hagel is a tool of nefarious Islamists. Though the amusing Cruz -- a vehement hawk who never wore the uniform but was undoubtedly quite fierce on the debate team, and keeps hoping that some smoking gun of non-Likudnik Hagel rhetoric can be found -- also managed to throw North Korea in there, too.

Speaking of North Korea, the hermit kingdom set off a more advanced nuclear device this week, a device that, while not yet ready for rigging on a missile, is much closer to that capability. While much of what North Korea says can be dismissed as churlishly childish demands for attention to a still impoverished society, this move clearly ups the ante in the geopolitics of the Asia Pacific region. So much so that its longtime ally China, that budding superpower and US frenemy, has denounced the move as too disruptive.

Yes, we are trying to pivot to the Asia Pacific region, that rising and complex part of the world in which the US and its allies have vast interests. (Which I write about as you can see in this archive. The Senate Armed Services Committee confirmation hearing on Hagel didn't delve into such matters. We keep getting hung up on the other end of the pivot.

Which is putting it mildly.

There is a depressingly revealing "word cloud" on the topics addressed in the Hagel confirmation hearing.

Israel was the utterly dominant topic, linked with Iran. Everything else, as you can see, was either minor or non-existent in comparison.

Not even Afghanistan, where we are trying to the longest war in American history but still have tens of thousands of troops in the field, registered as a major topic, much less pressing questions of future geopolitical strategy and military doctrine.

There's a lot to address going forward.

Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has designated McCain as the point person in determining when the filibuster ends.

He's been a weather vane.

On February 4th, he came out against any effort to filibuster and delay a confirmation vote by the full Senate on Hagel.

On February 11th, he issued a very definitive statement saying that Hagel has met the standards required of a nominee for secretary of defense.

McCain: "I have examined the information and responses to Members' questions that Senator Hagel has provided to the Committee, and I believe that he has fulfilled the rigorous requirements that the Committee demands of every Presidential nominee to be Secretary of Defense."

So why not vote, say, right now?

Well, McCain's buddy Lindsey Graham is desperately trying to avoid a Republican primary challenge from the right -- I should say, from the farther right -- next year in South Carolina. McCain went through one himself in 2010.

Proponents of the delay say it's only a delay, not a real filibuster. Whatever. But at what point does the moving goalposts of more information on distracting matters become simply permanent obstructionism?

Very, very soon.

I believe John McCain has a code of honor. He was certainly inculcated with the Honor Code at Annapolis -- as was his father and grandfather before him.

And while he now sails the seas of politics -- hardly an honorable clime, and I will be writing about the terrific new House of Cards series, and the greater BBC miniseries which gave rise to it -- McCain does have a set of principles.

I believe he will live up to those principles this month. And that will be that for the not so great Hagel contretemps.

You can check things during the day on my site, New West Notes ... www.newwestnotes.com.

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