Sunday, November 20, 2005

Holding Hagel to a Higher Standard

by Kyle Michaelis
There's probably nothing I hate more in the world then unproductive partisanship purely for partisanship's sake. It is why people hate politics and, in Nebraska, it has a lot to do with why voters have so little respect for the Democratic Party.

That's why it pains me to read this press release from the Nebraska Democratic Party responding to Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel's recent comments largely defending Democrats' and his own right to dissent on the Bush Administration's plan for the continued occupation of Iraq (in so far as it can even be considered a plan).

The press release reads:
Hagel Flip Flops on Pre-War Intelligence

He's making lots of headlines these days undermining President Bush's attacks on Senate Democrats, but what about Senator Hagel's own role in promoting pre-war intelligence that indicated Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction?

See what he said in 2003:
February 2003: Hagel Believed Iraq Had Biological Weapons and Ties to Terrorists. "We know something's out there in the way of chemical and biological weapons… I don't think it's any mystery or any surprise that Saddam Hussein has some and had some, still does have some relationships with terrorist organizations and terrorist leaders. That certainly is not a surprise." [NPR, "Talk of the Nation," 2/5/03]

Now, in 2005, he's got a different story...
November 2005: Hagel Says Democrats Were Right To Demand Probe Into Prewar Intelligence Manipulation. "I think the Democrats had a valid point…This has been frustrating… There are very legitimate and critical questions that need to be answered… That is the responsibility of governance. That's part of leadership. And we don't have answers for all those things." [Omaha World-Herald, 11/11/05]

"Senator Hagel has done a remarkable job in avoiding questions about his own use of pre-war intelligence while he hammers away at President Bush's administration for how they used the intelligence," said Barry Rubin, Nebraska Democratic Party Executive Director. "Someone needs to ask Chuck Hagel why he said that Saddam had links to terrorists and had chemical and biological weapons. Now he says he wants answers; we want answers too, but from him."

Wow, talk about protesting too much. It is one thing to question the motives behind Hagel's occasionally bold and commendable comments since it's obvious the man is setting himself up for a presidential bid, especially since his votes rarely reflect the streak of independence he so proudly flashes before national media. But here, the Nebraska Democratic Party is just being plain ridiculous trying to score points off Hagel for doing and saying THE RIGHT THING.

As reported in Wednesday's Washington Post:
Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) strongly criticized yesterday the White House's new line of attack against critics of its Iraq policy, saying that "the Bush administration must understand that each American has a right to question our policies in Iraq and should not be demonized for disagreeing with them."

With President Bush leading the charge, administration officials have lashed out at Democrats who have accused the administration of manipulating intelligence to justify the war in Iraq. Bush has suggested that critics are hurting the war effort, telling U.S. troops in Alaska on Monday that critics "are sending mixed signals to our troops and the enemy. And that's irresponsible."

Hagel, a Vietnam War veteran and a potential presidential candidate in 2008, countered in a speech to the Council of Foreign Relations that the Vietnam War "was a national tragedy partly because members of Congress failed their country, remained silent and lacked the courage to challenge the administrations in power until it was too late."

"To question your government is not unpatriotic -- to not question your government is unpatriotic," Hagel said, arguing that 58,000 troops died in Vietnam because of silence by political leaders. "America owes its men and women in uniform a policy worthy of their sacrifices."

Hagel said Democrats have an obligation to be constructive in their criticism, but he accused the administration of "dividing the country" with its rhetorical tactics.

Hagel supported the 2002 resolution to authorize military action in Iraq, but he has emerged as a strong skeptic of the Bush administration's handling of the war....

At one point, while answering a question from the audience about Syria, Hagel suggested that the Middle East is worse off after the invasion because the administration failed to anticipate the consequences of removing Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. "You could probably argue it is worse in many ways in the Middle East because of consequences and ripple effects," he said.

Take these comments into consideration along with Hagel's above concession that Democrats have legitimate questions that need to be answered and it becomes almost sickening that he would be taken to task by, of all people, the Nebraska Democratic Party.

Recent suggestions by Republicans that President Clinton and the Democratic Party are just as much to blame for the failures of the Iraq invasion, especially the faulty and mishandled intelligence on which it was based, have been just pathetically disingenuous and desperate. But that doesn't absolve Democrats of any responsibility whatsoever for where we stand today. The Nebraska Democratic Party has no right to question Hagel on his support for the Iraq invasion without expecting answers to the exact same questions from their own, particularly Sen. Ben Nelson.

Several Democratic Senators have recanted and now say their votes to authorize the invasion of Iraq were wrong. Honestly, I neither expect nor even desire such an admission from Nelson, but I'll be damned if Hagel should be held to a higher standard...Republican or not.

Both Nelson and Hagel voted according to the information shared with them by the Bush administration. That there were holes in that intelligence and likely outright fabrication was evident from the get-go. But, Americans were told that there was always more, better intelligence - secret intelligence - that we couldn't know about. Every suggestion was made to this point, with plenty of scare-mongering about "mushroom clouds" thrown in for good measure. So, we took the Bush Administration at its word and the Senate did the same.

How Hagel and Nelson will be judged on those votes - and the comments surrounding them - is between them, their consciences, their God, and the history books. What matters now is what they say and do in the present to make matters right in the Middle East.

Here, Hagel, for all his bluster and egotism, is doing what he can to right the disastrous course on which this nation has embarked. It is not honorable in the slightest to attack him for being one of the few prominent Republicans in this country to not only respond to but actually invite responsible criticism, in contrast with so much of his party's blindly marching along to Bush's every order.

Whereas Hagel's comments could be used constructively to demonstrate how the Republican Party is not keeping faith with the common sense and decency of Nebraska voters - to the point that even Hagel must defy them - it is deeply disappointing to see the Nebraska Democratic Party instead make a cheap personal attack without any regard for the underlying principles at hand.

Luckily, no one reads these press releases, and the media hardly reports on them. So long as the Nebraska Democratic Party is so petty and remains more concerned with scoring points than advancing the cause of truth and responsible government, I fear their voice will continue to be irrelevant. Hence, they may continue to use whatever double standards they wish that render them so indistinguishable from their supposed counterparts on the Right.

To question your Democratic Party is not undemocratic... don't ever forget that, ladies and gentlemen. We are better than this or we are no better at all.


Anonymous Cowpunk said...

Outstanding post, Kyle. Maybe these guys are just trying to cover Nelson's ass for showing no interest in holding anyone accountable for the Iraq debacle. I'm sick to death of "Gentle" Ben's cowardice. The fact that no Democrat will challenge him is emblematic of the defeatist attitude that keeps this party in permanent minority status here in Nebraska.


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