Monday, August 29, 2005

Hagel Takes (a little) Friendly Fire

by Kyle Michaelis
Yesterday's Omaha World-Herald included a rare couple of potshots on their golden boy, U.S. Sen. Chuck Hagel, from our old friend Harold W. Andersen for Hagel's recent assessment that the U.S. is losing in Iraq. Andersen's critique includes the following:
I think it's fair to say that U.S. Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., continues - with the very considerable help of the Sunday morning TV talk-show circuit - to do a very effective job of informing the public of his frequently repeated views on the war in Iraq; i.e., that we're in deep trouble in Iraq and that the Bush administration has failed to develop a realistic policy for withdrawal from that country before it becomes another Vietnam.

I think it is also fair to observe that Hagel's Republican colleagues in the Senate get considerably less attention when they express views sharply different from Hagel's. Consider the way the Associated Press reported last Sunday's television talkshow appearances of three Republican senators - Hagel, George Allen of Virginia and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

Hagel's views were mentioned in 16 of the 24 paragraphs in the story. Sens. Allen and Graham, who disagree with Hagel, received attention in six paragraphs....

Despite the disapproval of some Nebraskans who were early Hagel supporters, it's highly unlikely, I think, that Hagel will choose to appear less often on the Sunday morning television talk-show circuit or use less combative language in his persistent criticism of the Bush administration's Iraq policy.

Hagel would strengthen his case, I believe, if he would offer his plan for U.S. policy in Iraq - how many troops to leave and for how long and what conditions to leave behind: a stable government, continuing civil war, whatever. To date, his Iraq policy has been primarily to criticize what he says is the Bush administration's failure to develop a credible strategy for leaving Iraq.

Andersen can't possibly be stupid enough to fail to understand why 2 Republican senators giving stock answers and repeating the same crap we've been hearing from the Bush Administration for 2 and a half years isn't very newsworthy.

Hagel's criticisms aren't newsworthy because they're new - war critics have been saying the same things since before the invasion - they're newsworthy because they defy the Republican Party's self-imposed blindfolding on all the many fronts down which Bush is leading us toward disaster.

Of course, Andersen is right that Hagel's complaints are somewhat lacking in substance, but, honestly, that's okay. This war is Bush's baby. Congress has the ability to cut funding for it, but the day-to-day conducting of the war rests squarely on Bush's shoulders (though we all share in responsibility for it since he is our "democratically-elected" leader). Criticizing a mistaken approach, standing up and reminding the American people that it's the height of insanity to keep doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result, is an entirely legitimate action in the public's interest even if just to get people thinking about alternative solutions and strategies (especially when "solutions", in this situation, may not exist).

Perhaps Andersen should hold himself to the same standard he is holding Senator Hagel. If he's going to criticize Hagel's lack of a strategy to solve this coming quagmire of Bush's creation, doesn't he owe a strategy of his own? Or is "staying the course" despite all facts and reason good enough? I'd like to know.

Of course, Andersen was not alone in his commenting on Hagel in Sunday's OWH. Columnist Michael Kelly, though, wrote more of a love letter:
I met Hagel, a decorated, twice-wounded Vietnam veteran, when he returned to live in Nebraska in 1992 after more than two decades in Washington, D.C. I wrote a column, "Chuck Hagel Coming Home."

We're not close friends, and I don't agree with his every position. But after observing him before and after his 1996 election to the Senate, I disagree that he's speaking out now merely to boost his chances for a 2008 presidential nomination.

I hope Hagel does seek the GOP nomination - though his speaking out against the war may have a negative effect politically, which makes his stand all the more principled.

Time would test his ideas and whether he is the person for the top spot on the ticket or the top seat in the nation. But for now, we need his willingness to ask hard questions, which few others are doing....

Agree with him or not, Sen. Hagel should at least be allowed to continue asking questions without being vilified.

Criticize Hagel, certainly. But some critics, including some veterans, say you can't have it both ways, that you can't "support the soldiers and oppose the war."

The logic of that criticism is puzzling. What is more puzzling is questioning a combat-hardened United States senator's patriotism.

A little history lesson in there for you on how far back the World-Herald's selection of Hagel as its next golden boy goes. Nice to see that Kelly is more dedicated to that appointment than his superiors. Of course, notice that even Kelly's glowing assessment of Hagel's remarks makes clear they aren't made MERELY to boost his presidential prospects. Doesn't mean that's not a HUGE factor.

Meanwhile, for a final bit of perspective from another area journalist who generally proves similarly infatuated with Hagel, the Lincoln Journal-Star's Don Walton notes:
Here are contrasting views on Chuck Hagel’s latest critical assessment of U.S. policy in Iraq.

Rush Limbaugh: “It’s odd to me that (he) would apparently like to be lumped in with (the) far-fringe American left. I think what (Hagel) is really excited about is he thinks he can be the lone Republican here to get out in front of what’s really happening and be the guy who sounded the warning bells, but he’s wrong about it.”

Boston Globe columnist Derrick Jackson: “As the nation shuns the war, Hagel is becoming the principled face of revulsion from within.” Jackson compares Hagel’s position with that of Democratic Sen. William Fulbright, who turned against President Johnson’s war in Vietnam in spite of party.

The Hotline, a must-read on Capitol Hill, was in full speculative flight last week.

“Considering the wrath Rush Limbaugh delivered to Hagel on his radio show yesterday (an audience comprised of likely WH GOP primary voters), it’s hard to see how Hagel gets primary traction” in a possible bid for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination.

“But is the GOP nomination what Hagel is after, or the WH? Considering the level of polarization between the parties, is it really hard to imagine someone bolting a major party and attempting a WH run as an indie? The ability to test a third-party bid in the Internet age is going to tempt some major player in ‘08.”

Some mighty, mighty speculation going on there. But never under-estimate the press' power of suggestion, especially in this age of media hype. Hagel running for President as an independent, though - that's pretty damn crazy. For now on, Walton should probably look for comment from people a little less biased than Rush Limbaugh and The Hotline, as if they really represented opposing viewpoints. Walton conveniently fails to mention that the Hotline is a product of the notoriously conservative National Journal.

The Hotline, for all its fanciful notions, may be a must-read in certain corners of Capitol Hill, probably even the White House, but let's call it what it is - the Republican Party's daily dose of talking points and hack-speak - Rush Limbaugh for people who want to read what they're supposed to think rather than being told over the radio. Maybe Walton should be a little more clear about that the next time out.

********Disclaimer and Apology************
The above post makes some unfair assessments of the Hotline blog, which, at the time of this post, I was confusing as a product of the Right-wing National Review rather than the less discernibly partisan National Journal (with which it is actually affiliated). I apologize for misleading readers with so embarrassing a display of ignorance, and I apologize to the Hotline and Don Walton for my unfair denunciations.


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