Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Chuck Hagel Goes GQ & Almost Gets Away With It

by Kyle Michaelis
(**Update/Correction with Sincerest Apologies - This article has been corrected because it incorrectly stated that Chuck Hagel had voted for the June 2006 Gay Marriage Amendment. Hagel did not participate in that vote, but had announced he would have voted in support of cloture.)

The people at Sen. Chuck Hagel's political action committee were happy enough with the new interview with Hagel in GQ magazine to send it out to supporters via e-mail. But, despite its high-profile, one has to question whether this is really the type of publicity Hagel wants as he attempts to keep his options open for 2008.

For starters, the headline of the article labels Hagel as "The Angry One," a name that suggests doom and gloom far more than the hope and optimism that have traditionally fueled most successful presidential campaigns (foolhardy as they might be). The article is also accompanied by the not particularly flattering picture at right with an introduction that describes Hagel's voice as "reminiscent of sandpaper on rough oak."

Again, not very flattering.

Still, the interview is definitely worth checking out, and it gives Hagel the opportunity to go for broke on a couple of issues, especially the war in Iraq, to add a little more meat to his claim as the true straight-talking maverick about whom independents, moderates, and the growing ranks of Republicans who think Iraq was a mistake should be getting excited.

Judge for yourself:
Do you wish you’d voted differently in October of 2002, when Congress had a chance to authorize or not authorize the invasion?

Have you read that resolution?

I have.

It’s not quite the way it’s been framed by a lot of people, as a resolution to go to war. That’s not quite what the resolution said.

It said, “to authorize the use of United States Armed Forces against Iraq.”

In the event that all other options failed. So
it’s not as simple as “I voted for the war.” That wasn’t the resolution.

But there was a decision whether to grant the president that authority or not.

Exactly right. And if you recall, the White House had announced that they didn’t need that authority from Congress.

Which they seem to say about a lot of things.

That’s right. Mr. [Alberto] Gonzales was the president’s counsel at that time, and he wrote a memo to the president saying, “You have all the powers that you need”....

[F]inally, begrudgingly, they sent over a resolution for Congress to approve. Well, it was astounding. It said they could go anywhere in the region.

It wasn’t specific to Iraq?

Oh no. It said the whole region! They could go into Greece or anywhere. I mean, is Central Asia in the region? I suppose! Sure as hell it was clear they meant the whole Middle East. It was anything they wanted. It was literally anything. No boundaries. No restrictions.

They expected Congress to let them start a war anywhere they wanted in the Middle East?

Yes. Yes. Wide open. We had to rewrite it. Joe Biden, Dick Lugar, and I stripped the language that the White House had set up, and put our language in it.

But that should also have triggered alarm bells about what they really wanted to do.

Well, it did.
I’m not defending our votes; I’m just giving a little history of how this happened. You have to remember the context of when that resolution was passed. This was about a year after September 11. The country was still truly off balance. So the president comes out talking about “weapons of mass destruction” that this “madman dictator” Saddam Hussein has, and “our intelligence shows he’s got it,” and “he’s capable of weaponizing,” and so on.

And producing a National Intelligence Estimate that turned out to be doctored.

Oh yeah.
All this stuff was doctored. Absolutely. But that’s what we were presented with. And I’m not dismissing our responsibility to look into the thing, because there were senators who said, “I don’t believe them.” But I was told by the president—we all were—that he would exhaust every diplomatic effort.....

But the more I look back on this, the more I think that the administration knew there was some real hard question whether he really had any WMD. In January of 2003, if you recall, the inspectors at the IAEA, who knew more about what Saddam had than anybody, said, “Give us two more months before you go to war, because we don’t think there’s anything in there.” They were the only ones in Iraq. We hadn’t been in there. We didn’t know what the hell was in there. And the president wouldn’t do it!
So to answer your question—Do I regret that vote? Yes, I do regret that vote.

And you feel like you were misled?

I asked tough questions of Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld before the war: How are you going to govern? Who’s going to govern? Where is the money coming from? What are you going to do with their army? How will you secure their borders? And I was assured every time I asked, “Senator, don’t worry, we’ve got task forces on that, they’ve been working, they’re coordinated,” and so on.

Do you think they knew that was false?

Oh, I eventually was sure they knew. Even before we actually invaded, I had a pretty clear sense of it—that
this administration was hell-bent on going to war in Iraq.

Even if it meant deceiving Congress?

That’s right.....
Definitely some interesting stuff. Right off the bat, Hagel does as good a job as I've seen deflecting criticism of his vote in favor of the 2002 Iraq Resolution. If John Kerry could have communicated that same message in 2004 rather than being crucified by the media for being a flip-flopper, we probably would have just watched his third State of the Union Address last night.

Nevermind that it's taken four years and Hagel's at one point declaring the U.S. had "achieved victory" in Iraq to discover this clarity. With that sort of double-standard, Hillary Clinton and any Democratic Presidential candidate who voted on the Iraq Resolution should be prepared for the worst. On the other hand, you have to give credit to Hagel as a politician when he can say with a straight face that he's "not defending" his vote when, of course, that's precisely what he's doing.

Beyond that, Hagel's admitting the National Intelligence Estimate was doctored ("Absolutely") while asserting that the "hell-bent" Administration intentionally deceived Congress are all statements that should earn Hagel the headlines and public attention he seeks.

During the rest of the interview, Hagel continues to speak boldly. On the Administration's use of secret military prisons, he calls for shutting down Guantánamo and any such secret facilities without hesitation. Good for him. Good for America. But, on a related issue, we see another instance of Hagel's newfound clarity not matching his muddled record:
What about civil liberties? Does it concern you that the administration has been searching bank records and personal mail, and listening to international phone calls, without warrants?

Very much. We have always been able to protect national security without sacrificing the liberties of the individual. Once you lose those rights, it’s very hard to get them back.
There have been arguments made that if we just give up a few rights, it will be easier to preserve our national security. That should never, ever happen. When you take office, you take an oath to protect and defend the Constitution. That is your first responsibility.
While I couldn't agree more with the rhetoric, Hagel doesn't have the record to back it up, and it's a shame the media doesn't call him on that fact. From his seat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, it was just last March that he chose to capitulate to the Administration's undemocratic demands on domestic spying rather than defend the Constitution as duty and conscience required.

I will welcome the day and owe Hagel respect when he finally comes clean and apologizes for these failures - not just on Iraq but in response to the entire "War on Terror." Sadly, that day will never come when the media refuses to do some simple research and hold Hagel to the standards and principles he espouses.

I'm also appalled that GQ and its interviewer let Hagel get away with the following:
How conservative are you really? Tell me the truth: You don’t care whether or not gay people get married, do you?

No. Personally, I think marriage is between a man and a woman, but that’s because I see it as a religious union. As a legal contract,
marriage should be up to the states. If a state wants to change the rules, that’s up to them.
Although it's nice to see Hagel returning to the federalist philosophy that would not turn the U.S. Constitution into a weapon against gay families in the name of conservative Christians' culture wars, it's a sin against truth and good journalism not to point out Hagel's hypocritical flip-flop on this issue since just last summer.

(**corrected - see above)
In June 2006, Hagel went back on his previous position and ended up supporting cloture FOR the politically-motivated constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. He actually did not partake in that losing vote, but his willingness to see it take one step further as law in our most sacred governing document raises significant questions. This is particularly the case because the amendment had no chance of overcoming a Democratic filibuster and because seven other Republican Senators actually showed the courage Hagel lacked to stand up to their party's unprincipled pandering to its extremist wing.

Accountability, folks - it's a bitch. And, it's about damn time Hagel be introduced and get his ass kicked a little bit. It may not make his path to the presidency any easier, but - ultimately - it would make him a better, more honest candidate and make ours a stronger democracy.

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Blogger Eric said...

When you say he voted for the marriage amendment, do you mean that he voted for cloture? I seem to remember him saying something like "I'm voting against the amendment, but I still think it should get an up or down vote."

To me, it sounds like he's interviewing for the Secretary of State job in a Biden administration.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hagel's new regret on the war resolution belittles the intelligence of his constituents.
Immediately preceeding the vote o nthe war resolution was a vote on an amendment offered by Senator Durbin that would have raised the threshold of proof of WMD BEFORE the president could commit troops to Iraq. Hagel voted against it - essentially making it easier for Bush to go to war.
Sorry Chuck, when you had a chance you blew it.

Blogger Kyle Michaelis said...


Thank you for catching that unforgiveable error on my part.


That's a great point about the Durbin amendment. But, I'm sure Hagel could defend that vote without defending it as well. The guy's good at what he does.

Still, it would be nice if someone made him defend that vote.


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