Sunday, December 03, 2006

One Way to Make Chuck Hagel Look Real Good....

by Kyle Michaelis to put him alongside Independent Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman and let them speak about the war in Iraq.

Sure enough, that's precisely what CBS' "Face the Nation" did on Sunday morning, providing a platform for the two Senators who are probably least reflective of their respective political parties on this issue.

The discussion can be viewed here.

Lieberman not only holds onto an inexplicable faith that the Iraq war is still winnable for the United States (whatever that means), he also expressed serious concerns on behalf of the Bush Administration about the leak of two politically damaging memos admitting the shortcomings of our Iraq policy. How dare the American people learn what they already know!

Lieberman even suggests that talk of withdrawing troops is "a statement of weakness" that puts the U.S. in a position of "negotiating out of fear." With Lieberman grasping onto such 3 1/2 year-old rhetoric from which even the Bush Administration has begun to retreat, it's no surprise that Nebraska's Republican Senator came across as the more reasonable voice in this discussion.

Hagel largely echoed the refrains he's been making for months, most recently in a headline-grabbing editorial in last Sunday's Washington Post, where he assessed:
There will be no victory or defeat for the United States in Iraq. These terms do not reflect the reality of what is going to happen there. The future of Iraq was always going to be determined by the Iraqis -- not the Americans.

Iraq is not a prize to be won or lost. It is part of the ongoing global struggle against instability, brutality, intolerance, extremism and terrorism. There will be no military victory or military solution for Iraq....

The time for more U.S. troops in Iraq has passed...We are once again learning a very hard lesson in foreign affairs: America cannot impose a democracy on any nation -- regardless of our noble purpose.

We have misunderstood, misread, misplanned and mismanaged our honorable intentions in Iraq with an arrogant self-delusion reminiscent of Vietnam.....

The United States must begin planning for a phased troop withdrawal from Iraq....

It is not too late. The United States can still extricate itself honorably from an impending disaster in Iraq...If the president fails to build a bipartisan foundation for an exit strategy, America will pay a high price for this blunder -- one that we will have difficulty recovering from in the years ahead.

Since Hagel has, in the past, declared both defeat and victory in Iraq, it's amusing (in a depressing sort of way) how he's finally found a way to reconcile the two with a subtle shift in language.

Of course, victory and defeat were always the wrong standards for Iraq because either will, by necessity, ultimately belong to and be dependent upon the Iraqi people. Hagel is absolutely right about that. But, what Hagel didn't have the heart to write - what needed to be said in his column and on CBS this morning - is that the proper question for America is and always has been success or failure (?), of which our policy has clearly been the latter since day one.

Still, I have mixed feelings about the "phased troop withdrawal" called for by Hagel and many Democrats. Not because of some murderous and prideful worry that it shows our nation's weakness but because I'm unconvinced our nation has yet had the honest and open debate necessary to come to grips with the reality of Iraq, that we might meet the obligations we've assumed while making the best of a horrible situation for which we are more than a little bit responsible.

It's fair to assume even Hagel shares these mixed feelings (or he's again contradicting himself), since just yesterday the Omaha World-Herald reported that Hagel rejects specific timetables for withdrawal. Yet, on CBS this morning, Hagel declared that "timelines" are part of any solution.

Even if Hagel's not entirely consistent, though, he's at least contributing to an important national debate that has been too long suppressed by complacency in the media and the general public and by a Republican Party more intent on holding onto power and projecting false strength than doing the right thing by our servicemen and the people of Iraq. Lieberman lacks even a shred of credibility on this issue, and its sad to see him undermine the one idea on which all Americans, let alone all Democrats, should agree: that a change in strategy is necessary - not to secure victory but just to avoid greater catastrophe.

Alongside Lieberman and the Bush Administration's continued obtuseness, Hagel looked damn good by comparison...even if I can't embrace his every remark, especially where they've contradicted each other.

Hagel deserves special credit for having the courage to say what far too few are willing about the central role continued violence between Palestinians and Israelis plays in destabilizing the Middle East, inflaming anti-American sentiment, and making a lasting peace impossible. He stated as much this morning, in his recent Washington Post column, and in a speech at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln last month.

Hagel stands almost alone in (publicly) recognizing this inconvenient interconnectedness demanding a new approach to the entire region if we're serious at all about our "honorable intentions." For all the talk of Hagel's motivations being driven purely by personal ambition, this is one point on which it's impossible to be so dismissive. He's saying what needs to be said - what others are far too hesitant to say - earning respect and credibility but probably not the kind that's going to get a man elected President.


Blogger Charlie said...

There was an irony in the reverse role of the Republican and Democrat they chose. One of the things I like best about Chuck Hagel is how he sees the interconnections between policy elements. His view of the Middle East is excellent and I hope that someone listens to him.


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