Chuck Hagel: Iraq "An Absolute Replay of Vietnam"by Kyle Michaelis
Well, here's my attempt to help, since what Hagel had to say really is quite important and needs to be heard by Republican voters who know they don't like what they see and hear of Iraq but are looking for the permission of a loyal Republican like Hagel to overcome the reflexive assumption that their gut worries are just the result of the media's bias.
Whether you like what you hear from Hagel or not, here's your permission to think for yourself. Saturday's Omaha World-Herald reports:
Calling conditions in Iraq "an absolute replay of Vietnam," Sen. Chuck Hagel said Friday that the Pentagon is making a mistake by beefing up American forces in Iraq.
U.S. soldiers have become "easy targets" in a country that has descended into "absolute anarchy," the Nebraska Republican and Vietnam combat veteran said in an interview with The World-Herald.
He said that in the previous 48 hours, he had received three telephone calls from four-star generals who were "beside themselves" over the Pentagon's reversal of plans to bring tens of thousands of soldiers home this fall.
Instead, top Pentagon officials are suspending military rotations and adding troops in Iraq. The Pentagon has estimated that the buildup will increase the number of U.S. troops from about 130,000 to 135,000.
"That isn't going to do any good. It's going to have a worse effect," Hagel said. "They're destroying the United States Army."
Hagel previously has likened the war in Iraq to Vietnam, but Friday's comments drew a stronger connection. They followed a speech on the Middle East that Hagel delivered at the Brookings Institution.....
Seeking reaction to Hagel's comments, particularly the "absolute" comparison between Iraq and Vietnam, today's World-Herald reports:
"He's absolutely right," Lawrence Korb, a former senior Defense Department official in the Reagan administration, said of the Vietnam comparison. "The signs are all around."
Korb, who works at a centrist think tank, also agreed with Hagel's view that the Pentagon's reversal of plans to reduce troops this year would hurt the Army in the long run. "Yes, they're ruining the all-volunteer Army," Korb said.
Michael O'Hanlon, a defense expert at the Brookings Institution in Washington, disputed both arguments. "I think he's wrong" in the Vietnam comparison, O'Hanlon said.
"Although he could be right about the broader fact that we're just reinforcing failure in Iraq, the 'absolute' analogy with Vietnam is not quite apropos. It's unfortunately more apropos than [it] used to be," because of the emerging civil war, O'Hanlon said....
The White House, asked about Hagel's views, defended President Bush's strategy in Iraq and said coalition forces must remain on the offensive, including in Baghdad, to succeed....
To be honest, I'm amazed these remarks by Hagel haven't gotten more attention nationally. Yesterday's New York Times ran a none-too-revealing article about the partisan divide in perception of the war in Iraq and, from reading it, you'd never imagine it possible that one of the most prominent Republican voices on U.S. foreign policy had made so bold and unequivocal a comparison with the war in Vietnam just one day prior. In that article, Ken Mehlman - chair of the Republican National Committee - accuses Democrats of embracing defeatism, which he said "is not only bad for American troops, but...for their party.”
Well, it would be nice to hear what Mehlman has to say about Hagel's latest comments. There couldn't be a much greater defeat than Hagel's declaring Iraq in a state of "absolute anarchy", while accusing the Pentagon (and, by implication, the Bush White House) of "destroying the United States Army."
Hagel's actual speech to the Brookings Institution (which can be read here) was far more toned-down. In it, he kept his criticism more deliberately vague and less targeted at the Bush Administration. Making a more general call for greater engagement in the Middle East, Hagel largely danced around the Bush Administration's disastrous avoidance of the true issues at hand, leaving the region "captive to the fire of war and historical hatred."
Probably his most pointed criticism in the speech was that the Beirut Declaration negotiated with the Arab League but rejected by Israel in 2002 was a "squandered" opportunity. The World-Herald also reported Hagel's calling the Bush Administration's decision to pull out the U.S. Ambassador to Syria "mindless".
Little of Hagel's speech directly referenced the war in Iraq besides the following bleak assessment:
There is very little good news coming out of Iraq today. Increasingly vicious sectarian violence continues to propel Iraq toward civil war. The U.S. announcement this week to send additional U.S. troops and military police back into Baghdad reverses last month’s decision to have Iraqi forces take the lead in Baghdad...and represents a dramatic set back for the U.S and the Iraqi Government. The Iraqi Government has limited ability to enforce the rule of law in Iraq, especially in Baghdad. Green Zone politics appear to have little bearing or relation to the realities of the rest of Iraq.
The Iraqis will continue to face difficult choices over the future of their country. The day-to-day responsibilities of governing and security will soon have to be assumed by Iraqis. As I said in November, this is not about setting a timeline. This is about understanding the implications of the forces of reality. This reality is being determined by Iraqis – not Americans. America is bogged down in Iraq and this is limiting our diplomatic and military options. The longer America remains in Iraq in its current capacity, the deeper the damage to our force structure – particularly the U.S. Army. And it will continue to place more limitations on an already dangerously over-extended force structure that will further limit our options and public support.
My God, a Republican Senator talking about the reality of the situation in Iraq - not just wagging a purple finger in the air, not just tossing-off meaningless platitudes about staying the course.
Though it's undeniably too simplistic to draw too close a comparison between Iraq and Vietnam, it's comforting to know that Hagel - a man who actually lived through the horrors of war - keeps an actual eye to the lessons of history rather than just irresponsibly reading from the Bush Administration's talking points.
It's easy, of course, to give Hagel too much credit just for being so distinct in this regard as a Republican Senator. He's long been shattering illusions about Iraq with his words while voting, time and again, to feed this fantasy Bush & Co. have constructed. There's a dismaying disconnect there, but one that is still preferable to the alternative.
He's Chuck Hagel, folks - the thinking man's unthinking Republican. And, you almost have to like him; you just can't count on him.