NEW YORK – US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta blasted Senate Republicans over the weekend for their grilling of Chuck Hagel, the man nominated to replace him.
Hagel faced eight hours of questioning on Thursday in the Senate Armed Services Committee, some of it openly antagonistic. He was challenged on past statements disparaging “the Jewish lobby,” expressing equanimity at the prospect of an Iranian nuclear weapon, and seemingly calling to unilaterally reduce the American nuclear arsenal, among others.
Both sides garnered criticism from the hearing, mostly along partisan lines. Hagel was particularly criticized for poor responses to some of the questions, including a handful of responses that were themselves mistaken and had to be corrected later in the hearing.
“It’s pretty obvious that the political knives were out for Chuck Hagel,” Panetta charged in a joint interview alongside Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey on NBC’s Meet the Press. The full interview with Panetta and Dempsey is set to air Sunday morning in the United States.
“You think this was totally personal, totally partisan?” asked NBC News political director Chuck Todd.
“What disappointed me is that they talked a lot about past quotes,” Panetta replied. “But what about what a secretary of defense is confronting today? What about the war in Afghanistan? What about the war on terrorism? What about the budget sequestering and the impact it’s going to have on readiness? What about Middle East turmoil? What about cyber attacks? All of the issues that confront a secretary of defense, frankly those were – we just did not see enough time spent on discussing those issues.”
The criticism echoed the response of some in the Washington defense establishment, who complained that the eight-hour hearing did not deal with substantive issues Hagel would have to deal with.
Evan Wood, a Pulitzer-winning veteran reporter covering the US military, noted after the hearing that the interrogating senators were mum on the effects of proposed budget cuts.
“No one on the committee bothered to ask, with more than $1 trillion scheduled to be whacked out of the Pentagon’s 10-year spending plan, what missions will it give up? Which parts of the world should go unpatrolled, which allies unsupported, which brush-fire conflicts allowed to burn on untended?”