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.

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