By Robert Scheer
Chuck Hagel for president! If it ever narrows down to a choice between him and some Democratic hack who hasn’t the guts to fundamentally challenge the president on Iraq, then the conservative Republican from Nebraska will have my vote. Yes, the war is that important, and the fact that Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York, the leading Democratic candidate, still can’t or won’t take a clear stand on the occupation is insulting to the vast majority of voters who have.
Sen. Hagel is a decorated Vietnam War vet who learned the crucial lessons of that Democrat-launched debacle of post-colonial imperialism. Even more important, he has the courage to challenge a president from his own party who so clearly didn’t.
“The speech given last night [Jan. 10] by this president represents the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam,” Hagel said. “We are projecting ourselves further and deeper into a situation that we cannot win militarily.
“To ask our young men and women to sacrifice their lives to be put in the middle of a civil war is wrong. It’s, first of all, in my opinion, morally wrong. It’s tactically, strategically, militarily wrong,” he added.
If Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, another Democratic darling, has uttered words of such clarifying dissent on the president’s disastrous course, then I haven’t heard them. Instead, too many leading Democratic politicians continue to act as if they fear that if they are forthright in opposing the war, they will appear weak, whether on national security or the protection of Israel, and so ignore the clear, strong voice of the American people that just revived their party’s fortunes.
Ever since President Ronald Reagan painted foreign policy as a simplistic war of good versus evil, the Republican Party has been in the thrall of neocon adventurers. Yet, the national emergence of Hagel reminds us that, two decades earlier, it was Dwight D. Eisenhower, a war hero and a Republican, who was the only president to clearly challenge the simplistic and jingoistic militarism that most Democrats embraced during the Cold War. It was Eisenhower, in fact, who refused to send troops to Vietnam, and his Democratic successors who opened the gates of war.
True conservatives, going back to George Washington, have always been wary of the “foreign entanglements” that our first general and president warned against in his farewell address. And it is in that spirit, recognizing the limits to U.S. military power, that Hagel spoke this past Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Independent Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, late of an oft-opportunistic Democratic Party that saw fit to nominate him as recently as 2000 for the vice presidency, had just finished accusing those who don’t support President Bush’s escalation of the war of being “all about failing.” In his defense of the indefensible, Lieberman baldly repeated many of Bush’s lies that launched this war four years ago.
“The American people ... have been attacked on 9/11 by the same enemy that we’re fighting in Iraq today, supported by a rising Islamist radical super-powered government in Iran,” said the fear-monger. “Allowing Iraq to collapse would be a disaster for the Iraqis, for the Middle East, for us, that would embolden the Iranians and al-Qaida, who are our enemies. And they would follow us back here.”
Never mind the ridiculous image of “super-powered” Iran invading the United States, or the fact that foreign jihadists—arriving after the overthrow of anti-fundamentalist strongman Saddam Hussein— make up only a tiny fraction of the combatants in Iraq. The question is how the apparently intelligent Lieberman doesn’t understand that the main task of our troops for most of their stay in Iraq has been, de facto, to expand the power of Shiite theocrats trained for decades in Iran. Tehran couldn’t have baited a better trap.
In any case, Hagel refused to bite on Lieberman’s apocalyptic vision, which somehow manages to skip the hard truth that Iraq has collapsed because of our involvement, not despite it.
“[T]he fact is, the Iraqi people will determine the fate of Iraq,” Hagel responded, in what amounts to a radical opinion in paternalistic, arrogant Washington. “The people of the Middle East will determine their fate. We continue to interject ourselves in a situation that we never have understood, we’ve never comprehended [and] we now have to devise a way to find some political consensus with our allies [and] the regional powers, including Iran and Syria.
“To say that we are going to feed more young men and women into that grinder, put them in the middle of a tribal, sectarian civil war, is not going to fix the problem,” he added.
Words of wisdom that set the standard for anyone running for president.
Watch the “Meet the Press” exchange between Hagel and Lieberman
AP Photo / Gerald Herbert
Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., speaks at a press conference regarding his proposed plan to save Social Security on Capitol Hill in Washington Monday, March 7, 2005.