Former Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel, President Obama’s nominee to succeed Leon Panetta as secretary of Defense, had a rough day at his Senate hearing last week. But he still should be confirmed for the post.
Mr. Hagel’s qualifications remain impressive. He was a twice-wounded foot soldier in the Vietnam war. That experience gives him a valuable perspective on what it means to send men and women into combat.
Some — perhaps many — of them will die or be wounded. The reason for U.S. involvement in a war should be clear and vital to the nation’s interests.
Some of Mr. Hagel’s statements in his day-long hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee were not as smooth or rehearsed as they could have been. Knowing the Senate, he should have expected a certain number of cheap shots. Yet many Americans no doubt appreciated his plain-spoken yet sophisticated responses to self-serving questions, ready-made for TV cameras, from some of the Senate’s lesser media stars.
One such exchange was a confrontational question on the Iraq war troop surge from defeated Republican presidential nominee John McCain of Arizona, a Vietnam veteran himself. Another was the effort by Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina to extract criticism from Mr. Hagel of individual senators over the influence of what the nominee had previously, clumsily called the “Jewish lobby” — a reference he testified he now regrets.
Americans should be concerned about who will lead the Defense Department during the effort by the White House and Congress to preserve the Armed Forces’ high level of capability. At the same time, Washington must seek to cut the costs of the Pentagon and other government departments to reduce the budget deficit and reverse the upward spiral of the national debt.
Mr. Hagel showed at last week’s hearing that he possesses the knowledge, core values, and coolness and practicality in the face of opposition to carry out that difficult task. The Senate should approve his nomination promptly.