Friday, August 19, 2005

Hagel's "truth to power"

by Kyle Michaelis
U.S. Senator Chuck Hagel has attracted some attention nationally (isn't that the point?) in the last few days with comments criticizing President Bush's conducting of the war in Iraq, as well as questioning his handling of the Cindy Sheehan situation.

In both cases, Hagel earns gold stars for his mere willingness to break free of the Republican Party's "See no evil, Speak no evil" stranglehold on all matters concerning Iraq (or really any of the federal government's numerous, disastrous failings since Republicans seized control of every branch). It is always refreshing when Hagel speaks candidly even if his words strike hollow and are rarely backed up with action.

If the illusion of independence is really what Nebraska voters want, then this is their man (not to be confused with a genuine non-partisan like Ben Nelson). But let's just see what Hagel had to say.

Reuters reports on Hagel (and Nebraska voters' discontent) from Broken Bow:
In the solidly Republican state of Nebraska, voters are expressing deep anxiety about rising gasoline prices and the war in Iraq, a possible early warning sign for President George W. Bush in one of his most reliable strongholds.

When Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel traveled around his home state this week, citizens at every stop brought up Iraq policy and the inexorable rise in fuel prices.

"Is there anything the United States can do to get some stability in crude oil prices in the world, because it affects everything we do?" Larry Ahlers, a manager at medical device manufacturer Becton and Dickinson in Broken Bow, asked Hagel in one of dozens of such encounters.

Hagel, a possible Republican presidential candidate in 2008, responded that gasoline prices were likely to stay high for the foreseeable future because of rising world demand and the U.S. failure to develop new energy sources and conserve.

Earlier the same day in Lincoln, an elderly woman asked about Iraq. "Why are we there in the first place?" she asked.

On Tuesday in the central Nebraska town of Lexington, after a meeting with law enforcement officials on drug problems, three sheriffs expressed serious doubts about what the United States was doing in Iraq and whether it could succeed.

Hagel, a Vietnam veteran, acknowledged the U.S. military presence was becoming harder and harder to justify. He believes Iraq faces a serious danger of civil war that would threaten Middle East stability, and said there is little Washington can do to avert this.

"We are seen as occupiers, we are targets. We have got to get out. I don't think we can sustain our current policy, nor do I think we should," he said at one stop.

In an interview, Hagel said uncertainties over Iraq and oil prices fed off and reinforced each other.

"The mood is one of a certain sense of unsteadiness," he said. "I have sensed that since September 11, 2001. Our people have still not found an equilibrium and when you get these shocks, like gasoline at $2.50 a gallon and projecting natural gas costs doubling and tripling from what they paid last year, that further shakes them...."

"I think there's this steady unsure sense about where is this all leading - the constant daily reports on Iraq, our people being killed there, the money being spent there," he added....

Hagel said even some who had previously backed Bush strongly on Iraq now felt deep unease.

"The feeling that I get back here, looking in the eyes of real people, where I knew where they were two years ago or a year ago - they've changed," he said....

Hagel said Bush faced a growing credibility gap. "The expectations that the president and his administration presented to the American people 2 1/2 years ago is not what the reality is today. That's presented the biggest credibility gap problem he's got," he said.

"I hope he has some sense that something's going on out in the country, that there's a lack of confidence that has developed in our position."

Those are damn harsh words from a Republican Senator, even harsher if you think about them. Hagel is indicating not only that Bush is out of touch with the American people but that he has lost their trust, even in Nebraska. That is a pretty serious charge even if it is backed up by every bit of polling data and common sense this country has to offer.

Can you imagine the uproar if Ben Nelson even said half of what Hagel's saying? Radio ads would be declaring him a dangerous pinko from Scottsbluff to Beatrice.

Meanwhile, today's Washington Post quotes Hagel referring to the President's foolish handling of Cindy Sheehan, a mother who lost her son in this war and only wants an answer to why:
Some Republicans have concluded that the White House mishandled the Sheehan situation. Bush sent two top aides to talk with her but refused to see her himself, having already met her once last year as part of a larger session with relatives of war casualties.

Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) said yesterday that Bush would have been smarter to see Sheehan. "I do know that he met with her and other families prior, but I think the wise course of action, the compassionate course of action, the better course of action would have been to immediately invite her into the ranch," Hagel said on CNN.

Sorry Chuck, I think Bush may have ruined the idea of "compassionate conservatism" on which he ran forever with his continued policies making mockery of both terms. Might need a new angle to run with if it's the presidency you're after.

Still, Hagel is right on, speaking as a Veteran himself, in calling for the dignified treatment Sheehan deserved and most certainly has not received. I dare say it is an insult to all those who have lost loved ones and all those who fight to this day.

So, keep speaking truth to power Sen. Hagel, even if that truth only comes out when it's convenient and that power is intended to be your own.


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