Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., got heated with Chuck Hagel during the Senate Armed Services Committee confirmation hearings on Thursday, pressing Hagel on whether or not he was right in condemning the troop surge in Iraq in 2007.
McCain referred to comments Hagel made in 2007, when Hagel said that the surge would amount to the “most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam”:
McCain: “This committee deserves your judgment as to whether you were right or wrong about the surge.”
Hagel: ”I’ll explain why I made those comments.”
McCain: “I want to know if you were right or wrong. That’s a direct question. I expect a direct answer.”
Hagel: “The surge assisted in the objective, but if we review the record a little bit.”
McCain: “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?”
Hagel: “I’m not going to give you a yes or no, I think it’s far more complicated than that.”
Hagel ended by noting that his comments were about “not just the surge, but about the overall war of choice going into Iraq.”
The Hagel-McCain dynamic is a strange one. The two, both Vietnam vets, used to be friends during their time in the Senate. Hagel endorsed McCain in the 2000 presidential race, and that year McCain even floated Hagel as a possible choice for defense secretary, were he to be elected president.
But, as CNN reports, the two drifted apart beginning in 2007, when McCain supported the surge and Hagel opposed it. From CNN:
A source close to McCain said the friends just drifted apart as friends sometimes do, not because of policy differences. But even McCain acknowledged the change.
“I’ve noticed over the years that our views on the United States of America and what we should be doing in the world have diverged rather dramatically,” he said earlier this month.
By McCain’s 2008 presidential run, Hagel was more in line with McCain’s anti-Iraq war opponent Barack Obama.
“Quite simply, the split began over the length and cost of the Iraq war and Hagel’s decision to not support the surge, which John took as a personal insult,” an anonymous McCain ally told the Washington Post. “It’s very sad.”
Jillian Rayfield is an Assistant News Editor for Salon, focusing on politics. Follow her on Twitter at @jillrayfield or email her at email@example.com.