Only in the United States Senate could calling someone a friend pack such a sting.
Senator John McCain, R-Ariz., took off the kid gloves at the Secretary of Defense confirmation hearing for former Sen. Chuck Hagel Thursday, attempting to pin the nominee down with a yes-or-no question on the success of the troop surge in Iraq.
McCain called Hagel an "old friend," and then went on to show very little signs of friendliness.
McCain and Hagel, at least in the past, were more alike than different. Both long-serving Republican senators, both veterans of the Vietnam War, the two men were once close friends. Hagel was even one of the first to endorse McCain in his 2000 bid for president.
But their disagreement over the Iraq war, and later the surge, has been an ongoing point of contention between them, coming to a head in what was a rather nasty exchange before the Senate Armed Forces Committee hearing.
The Washington Post's The Fix explains the history:
While Hagel, like McCain, voted for the use of force resolution against Iraq, he was always wary of America going it alone in the conflict and, as time wore on, became a more and more outspoken critic of the war.
McCain, on the other hand, remained a stalwart defender of the necessity of the war and went on later in the decade to become the face of the surge strategy to put more troops in the country. Hagel opposed that strategy and panned it repeatedly.
“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,” said one McCain ally granted anonymity to speak candidly about the relationship. “It’s very sad.”
The response to the anger of their exchange from pundits was interested, if not entirely surprised.
Just watch the cspan replay of the McCain-Hagel exchange. Wow. Probably no changing votes, but definitely great TV.— Zeke Miller (@ZekeJMiller) January 31, 2013
There’s a close paralell universe in which President McCain nominated Hagel as Secretary of Defense 12 years ago.— Matt Yglesias (@mattyglesias) January 31, 2013
Mccain and hagel - former bff's - going at it as expected over differences re the iraq surge— Dana Bash (@DanaBashCNN) January 31, 2013
Anyone who knows McCain, especially as well as Hagel, knows McCain feels vindicated that the surge succeeded— Dana Bash (@DanaBashCNN) January 31, 2013