Hours before John Brennan, President Obama’s nominee to head the CIA, went before the Senate Intelligence Committee for his confirmation hearing yesterday, his counterpart hoping to lead the Defense Department had another setback when the Senate Armed Services Committee postponed a vote on Chuck Hagel’s confirmation. The committee was showing its displeasure about Hagel’s failure to disclose information about the fees he received for speaking engagements and other entanglements. It’s been a bad week for Hagel, as he continues to be abused for his abysmal performance at his confirmation hearing. But the issue of his competence was put into relief yesterday by Brennan’s performance during his ordeal.
Brennan took a pasting from senators who vented years of frustration about the way they have been—as Senator Barbra Mikulski put it—“jerked around” by past CIA directors. He was grilled about his positions on torture of terror suspects, drone attacks, leaks and lingering questions about the disaster in Benghazi. But though he didn’t always give straight answers–or any answer at all–to some questions, he was prepared, focused and able to defend his position at all times. The contrast with Hagel was startling. Though, as I wrote yesterday, there are a number of good reasons to deny him confirmation, he is in command of the issues facing the CIA and clearly smart enough to do the job. Could anyone say the same about Hagel after last week’s fiasco?