Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Notes on Chuck Hagel

There's a very interesting profile in the latest edition of The New Republic on oddball Chuck Hagel. He's an interesting guy, and I'm intrigued by his approach to foreign policy, particularly his long opposition to the Iraq war.
It's no secret that Senator Hagel has strong presidential aspirations, so I've found his courage to confront Mr. Bush and the Republican establishment, long before the recent tide of credentialed Republicans had begun to jump on the anti-Bush, anti-war bandwagon, puzzling.
He's always had a streak of maverick in him; he supported John McCain for president in 2000 even when almost everyone else in the party, except John McCain, had already foretold the inevitable coronation of GWB as the Republican party's nominee.
The thoughtful essay in The New Republic, called "Look Back in Anger," makes the persuasive case that Hagel's experience as a grunt in Vietnam is what informs his world view, and his position on the use of the U.S. military to further U.S. interests abroad.
The excerpt below, where he takes a swipe at his former mentor, John McCain, is fascinating. It is completely consistent as far as I'm concerned for someone who bucked the mainstream of his party to back McCain for president six years ago to now question the very honesty of Mr. McCain. While I never supported McCain for president, like many others, I genuinely admired him once but no longer do. It will be interesting to see if Chuck Hagel is eventually driven out of the party, or if the small segment of the Republican party that he represents will gain ascendancy, before it completely implodes.
But again, what's so striking about all of this is that one was made to look like an idiot not all that long ago if Vietnam and Iraq were used in the same sentence. It now seems impossible to analyze the latter without the former.

Hagel's fury over Iraq has unsettled his political life. He has been at odds with the White House for at least five years, but he has now alienated some of his Republican colleagues in the Senate. Even his friendship with McCain, who was once his mentor, appears to be on the rocks. In early February, Hagel called a McCain resolution on the Iraq war "intellectually dishonest." When a reporter from GQ asked Hagel this winter how serving in Vietnam had affected his decisions on Iraq, he drew a cruel contrast between his service and McCain's: "When I got to Vietnam, I was a rifleman. I was a private, about as low as you can get. So my frame of reference is very much geared toward the guy at the bottom who's doing the fighting and dying. ... John McCain served his country differently--he spent five years as a prisoner of war. ... I don't think my experience makes me any better, but it does make me very sober about committing our nation to war." In March, after Hagel had voted for the Democratic resolution on withdrawal from Iraq, McCain fired back. "My views are not framed by events that happened thirty years ago," he said. "I don't think it would be fair to my constituents, intellectually, to have my views formed only by that one experience of my life. That's maybe where Chuck and I have some differences." McCain's comments were as cruel as Hagel's. And they were also hypocritical, given that McCain invariably uses his own experience as a prisoner of war to attract support for his current stance.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Fais do-do (or pass the dough )

Part of the reason New Orleans, and indeed Louisiana, where natural resources and riches are so plentiful, resides in the developing world is the same reason so many countries south of our borders and elsewhere do. It's because of the graft and immoral greed of the people placed in charge. Rep. William Jefferson follows a long history of just such leaders in Louisiana.

I won't recount yet again my many anecdotes from the time I lived in New Orleans, where residents talked about their corrupt leaders with a wink and a smile, as I've done that here before. But it's hard to passionately make arguments that we need to rescue that precious place, when voters there continue to elect people like this guy. It's not like this information wasn't available and well-known before November of last year, and yet they sent him right back to Washington.

Sometimes I feel about Louisiana the way I felt about the crumbling city of Washington, DC, that continued cycle after cycle to re-elect Marion Barry, the poster child for all that is wrong with politics in the country today. I hope Mr. Jefferson will get to enjoy Angola, the notorious Louisiana state prison, and not be shoved off to some cushier, federal institution, if and when he's finally held accountable for his deeds.

WASHINGTON (AP) - Rep. William Jefferson, D-La., was indicted Monday on federal charges of racketeering, soliciting bribes and money-laundering in a long-running bribery investigation into business deals he tried to broker in Africa.

The indictment handed up in federal court in Alexandria., Va., Monday is 94 pages long and lists 16 alleged violations of federal law that could keep Jefferson in prison for up to 235 years. He is charged with racketeering, soliciting bribes, wire fraud, money-laundering, obstruction of justice, conspiracy and violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

Jefferson is accused of soliciting bribes for himself and his family, and also for bribing a Nigerian official.

Almost two years ago, in August 2005, investigators raided Jefferson's home in Louisiana and found $90,000 in cash stuffed into a box in his freezer.

Jefferson, 63, whose Louisiana district includes New Orleans, has said little about the case publicly but has maintained his innocence. He was re-elected last year despite the looming investigation.