The Hagel fiasco:

I can’t get Defense Secretary-designate Chuck Hagel’s awful Jan. 31 Senate confirmation testimony out of my head. I went back last week and watched most of it again. It was stunning, by far the worst performance by a high-level appointee I’ve ever seen or heard about. I’m not referring to Hagel’s gaffes, though there were some. I’m talking about pretty much everything he said after he read his opening statement. He seemed – is there a nice way to say this? – stupid.

Yet from what I’ve read, those who know him say he is far from stupid. I spent an hour interviewing him about 10 years ago and he seemed pretty sharp ‑ though it was for a profile of a friend of his, so the questions were hardly challenging.

Why did Hagel stumble so badly? Is he an empty suit who showed his real ability or lack thereof when he faced the senators’ tough grilling? Or was he ill? Does he have a health problem we should know about?

I’m serious. This testimony was more than a bad “performance.” For example, he seemed not to understand even the basics of the Pentagon budget and the effects of the looming sequestration of a portion of its appropriated funding. Go back and watch it.

Before this hearing, Hagel’s defenders brushed off the former Nebraska senator’s past statements that suggested his positions on issues such as Israel, Iran or gay rights differed from Obama administration policy. Their point – beyond the fact that he has since repudiated those comments ‑ was that the president sets policy, and the job of the defense secretary is to carry it out.