Chuck Hagel: Man On Fireby Kyle Michaelis
This sort of conduct is unheard of in modern Republican politics. Just questioning President Bush has become such a sin within Republican ranks that it isn't surprising so many Republicans are responding more negatively to Hagel than ever before with his suddenly making open demands of the Commander-in-Chief.
Well, if they were angry then, I expect the latest comments from Hagel will cause them to go downright ballistic. For starters, he's made his first call for an actual timetable for withdrawal. As a Republican, he then commited the highest sin by laying blame for our failures in Iraq directly on Bush and the Bush Administration. The Lincoln Journal-Star reports:
The United States needs to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq within the next six months, Sen. Chuck Hagel said Thursday, rather than ratcheting up its military commitment now.
With Iraq exploding in sectarian violence and “moving closer and closer to a straight-out civil war,” Hagel said, the Bush administration’s decision to transfer nearly 5,000 additional U.S. troops into Baghdad is “only going to make it worse for us.”
In the end, he said, “feed(ing) more American troop fodder into the fight” could result in “even a worse defeat.”
Iraqis are “going to have to step up” and assume responsibility for defense of their country, Hagel told a telephone news conference from Washington.
Hagel said he believes increasing U.S. troop strength in Iraq by extending military tours while cycling in new troops is a mistake.
“Eventually, we need to start pulling people out of there,” said the Nebraska Republican, who is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
With violence “out of control” and militias in charge, Hagel said, U.S. troops increasingly are “seen as occupiers.”
If Iraqis themselves do not assume control of their country’s fate, he said, the nation may dissolve into a civil war that splits it into three countries. It’s also possible Iraq may evolve into some kind of Islamic republic, he said.
Asked what the United States could do, Hagel said: “Ask the president. Ask Secretary (of Defense Donald) Rumsfeld. They’re the ones who got us into this.”
"They're the ones who got us into this." My God, that almost sounds like a Republican Senator asking that Bush and Rumsfeld be held accountable. While Hagel might have just been deflecting cheap criticism of his speaking out without setting forth a clear alternative, it's hard to argue with his finally suggesting what no Republican wants to hear - Iraq is a mess and Bush is to blame.
That goes far beyond attacks that Hagel supports "cutting and running" in Iraq. He's not just willing to admit failure (i.e. additional soldiers invite "even a worse defeat"), he's willing to point fingers.
In an election year.
At a Republican president.
At a time of war.
That's something new. That's a giant split with years of party-wide Republican pandering and Bush apologetics dating back to even before 9/11.
What has changed? What's pushed Hagel over the edge into this unmarked territory in Republican politics? Is this just reality setting in and Hagel doing what he must to fulfill his duty to those soldiers serving a losing cause he finds all too painfully familiar? Is this Hagel getting word of a Republican Congressman from Minnesota's call to begin withdrawal and deciding he'd better amp it up a notch to maintain his precarious position as the Republican Party's most prominent critic of the Iraq War? Is this Hagel's acknowledging that Pete Ricketts doesn't have a shot against Ben Nelson, allowing Hagel to refocus on his work of running for President without worrrying that it's going to dishearten Nebraska Republicans and drive them further into Nelson's camp this election year?
And, of course, a thousand other considerations could be in play as well.
Regardless, there's going to come a point with Hagel going out on these limbs at which he's not going to be able to follow his long-established pattern of crawling back on his hands and knees after getting what attention he could muster. There's going to come a point at which Hagel will have to back up his bold statements with some actual votes or risk losing every ounce of credibility he has ever had as a U.S. Senator. Some would say that time came and went long ago. Personally, I'd say Hagel has reached that point right here, right now.
And, guess what - it shouldn't be long at all before the new Chuck Hagel is tested. A vote is already on the horizon for which Hagel admits there would be a disconnect if he simply rolls over for the President as he has done so many countless times in the past. Oddly enough, this is an issue on which Hagel has once before expressed grave concerns before backing down from his criticism and voting as told.
What is the vote in question? The 2nd attempt at Bush's appointnment of controversial United Nations Ambassador John Bolton receiving actual confirmation from the Senate. Last year, Hagel acknowldged Bolton's "disturbing pattern" of intimidation that "should not be anywhere in our government" before voting to advance his nomination to the full Senate from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Bolton ended up not getting the confirmation he sought, but his name has come up again with Hagel having a rare second chance to do the right thing in Committee.
After his recent criticism of the Bush Administration's failed foreign policy and meager efforts at international diplomacy, Hagel stated:
I want to revisit Mr. Bolton's performance. I think...if I actually believe what I have said, and I do, then there appears to be...some disconnect in how I could support Mr. Bolton....And I think that's a fair question....
Bottom line...is, I haven't decided yet how I'll vote on Mr. Bolton.
Hagel is talking in a more challenging tone than ever before. Here he has his chance to prove that's more than talk, that - perhaps - he's finally ready to back up his words with action.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is expected to vote whether to advance Bolton's nomination in September. With Sen. George Voinovich having changed the vote that last time blocked Bolton's confirmation, it likely falls to Hagel to finally stand up to the Bush Administration and to stand by his own rhetoric.
Alas, that isn't likely to happen. When Hagel's been "undecided" in the past, it's usually indicated his eventually defaulting to partisanship over principle. Expect more of the same until there's an actual commitment to the contrary.