Thursday, January 25, 2007

THE ANGRY ONE: Republican senator Chuck Hagel sounds off

Reprint of an Article from

THE ANGRY ONE Republican senator Chuck Hagel sounds off on the sorry state of Congress, the president’s lies, and the vote for war that he now regrets

(To begin, - they're talking about a Draft Bill to allow the invasion of Iraq in 2003. The Draft that the Whitehouse is proposing must pass in the Senate and the House to become law.-mh)

Q)It’s incredible that you had to ask for that.

It is incredible. That’s what I said to Andy Card. Said it to Powell, said it to Rice. Might have even said it to the president. And finally, begrudgingly, they sent over a resolution for Congress to approve. Well, it was astounding. It said they could go anywhere in the region.

Q)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.

Q)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.

Q)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.

Q)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.

Q)You were told that personally?

I remember specifically bringing it up with the president. I said, “This has to be like your father did it in 1991. We had every Middle East nation except one with us in 1991. The United Nations was with us.”

Q)Did he give you that assurance, that he would do the same thing as his father?

Yep. He said, “That’s what we’re going to do.” 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.

Q)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.

Q)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.

Q)Even if it meant deceiving Congress?

That’s right.

Q)Congress has a lot less leverage to stop the war, now that it’s begun.

Well, we still have power, starting with appropriations, oversight, the power of the people, the polls. We represent the voters.

Q)It’s indirect, though.

It is indirect, if you’re looking to stop the war. We’re already in it, we’re hugely invested, half a trillion dollars, over 3,000 dead…

Q)And the decision to withhold funding is a tough one.

That’s right, because it can be seen as political. It is touchy. Nobody ever wants to be accused of cutting a canteen from the troops, so you get into that murky area: Are you hurting the troops by cutting off funding?

Q)Where are you on that?

I think we need to exercise oversight of the funding. The president is going to come up with probably $100 billion in “emergency supplemental” funding for the war. That bill needs to get oversight. The last four years, we haven’t had any oversight over these “emergency” appropriations. Let’s examine it. Let’s pull it apart: “What’s this 40 million for?”

Q)That seems so slow and bureaucratic.

It’s frustrating. Especially when you’re losing young Americans every day. We just keep throwing them into the fire.

Q)Does it seem like the president is basically daring you to cut funding?

He is. He feels, as I think a number of Republicans do, that it would be a disastrous thing politically. These are bright people. They understand politics about as well as anyone. President Bush has been elected twice. Some might argue that he wasn’t elected the first time. With the popular vote, he actually wasn’t. But he’s very savvy politically. He’s never going to stand for election again, and he believes this is right for the country. The president is trying to do something very difficult: sustain a war without the support of the American people.

Q)Are you especially sensitive about these wartime decisions because you’ve been to war?

Certainly going through combat in Vietnam and seeing war up close, seeing friends wounded and killed in front of you, you cannot help but be framed by that experience. 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. Jim Webb and I are the only ones in the Senate who had that experience. John McCain served his country differently—he spent five years as a prisoner of war. John Kerry was on a boat for about three months, maybe less. I don’t think my experience makes me any better, but it does make me very sober about committing our nation to war. We should never again get into a fiasco like we did in Vietnam. And if we are going to use force, we better make damn sure it is in the national interest.

Q)Which is essentially the “Powell Doctrine.” Do you and Colin Powell still talk?

We’re very good friends.

Q)Do you think it’s hard for him to keep silent these days?

I think it is very hard for him. I think he is greatly tormented by all of this.

Q)Does it surprise you that so many people in the administration who supported this war, didn’t have any military experience?

I have never doubted the motives of those who wanted to go to war so badly. I don’t question their moral standing.

Q)But you might wonder if they really understand what war is.

Look, it has not gone unnoticed that President Bush served a little time in the National Guard. Secretary Rice never served. Wolfowitz never served. Feith never served. Cheney had five deferments. Rumsfeld might have done something at one time. But the only guy that had any real experience was Colin Powell. And they cut him off. That’s just a fact. That’s not subjective. That’s the way it was.

Q)Does being a veteran also make you sensitive to the administration’s approach to interrogation and the use of secret military prisons?

It does, because that’s not who America is. We have always, certainly since World War II, had the moral high ground in the world. But these secret prisons and the treatment at Guantánamo destroy all of that. We ought to shut down Guantánamo. There shouldn’t be any secret prisons. Why do we need those? What are we afraid of? Here we are, the greatest nation the world has ever seen. Why can’t we let the Red Cross into our prisons? Why do we deny they exist? Why do we keep them locked up? What are we afraid of? Why aren’t we dealing with Iran and Syria?

Q)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.

Q)Is it strange for you to be allied on these issues with the anti-war left, which is not exactly your constituency?

I think these issues are starting to redefine the political landscape. You are going to see alliances and relationships develop that are based on this war. You are going to see a reorientation of political parties.

Q)You don’t hear very many politicians say that both sides of an issue are reasonable these days.

We are living through one of the most transformative periods in history. If we are going to make it, we need a far greater appreciation and respect for others, or we’re going to blow up mankind. Look at what zealotry can do. Religious zealotry has been responsible for killing more people than any other thing. Look at the Middle East today. It’s all about religion. We need to move past those divisions and learn to be tolerant and respectful. If we go out there full of intolerance and hatred, we’ll never make it.


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