Sunday, January 28, 2007

Chuck Hagel Profiled in Newsweek

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Chuck Hagel is profiled in the current issue of Newsweek:

Chuck Hagel wears pain on his face. The senior senator from Nebraska earned two Purple Hearts in Vietnam, where a mine blew out his eardrums and delivered a sharp burn up the left side of his head. When he is thinking hard, his brow droops low, weighted and weary; when he smiles, his eyes slip into thin slits. His brother Tom calls this Hagel's "running gear"—the thick mask of intensity he shows the world.

That intensity was on display last Wednesday as he sat and stewed at a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The panel was considering a resolution condemning President Bush's proposal to send 21,000 additional troops to Iraq; Hagel, a cosponsor of the resolution, would be the only Republican on the committee to vote for its passage. As he listened to his colleagues make their cases for and against the president's plan, Hagel told NEWSWEEK he noticed something missing: an acknowledgment that the Senate was talking about committing real troops, the men and women whose "fighting and dying" make a war. He had no prepared text but the words came easily as he took his turn at the mike. Calling Iraq the country's most divisive issue since Vietnam, he dared his fellow committee members to take a stand. "I think all 100 senators ought to be on the line on this," he said. "If you wanted a safe job, go sell shoes." For a moment, his colleagues were silent and stunned. Later that afternoon, Joe Biden, the committee's Democratic chairman, complimented him on his performance. "I've rarely seen such a powerful connection between the heart and the mind," Biden said. "That was deep in you."

Viewed from afar, the stuff inside Hagel looks like the stuff that makes Republican presidential candidates. He is a third-generation party member who grew up idolizing Teddy Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower. He says he was the only student in his Roman Catholic high school to support Richard Nixon over John F. Kennedy in the 1960 presidential election—and when he cast his first vote, an absentee ballot from Vietnam, it was for Nixon's winning ticket in 1968. His conservative credentials are impeccable: according to Congressional Quarterly, he voted with the White House more times in 2006 than any other senator. He is manly, Middle American—and when he talks about military matters, he exudes the cool confidence of a warrior-statesman who knows that war is hell.

But Hagel, who as of late last week was in the final stages of weighing a presidential run, is never mentioned in the top tier of Republican candidates for one, simple reason: since the initial buildup to the war in Iraq, he has assailed the Bush administration's policy—in sharp words, in constant refrain and, most unforgivably, in public. His outburst last week was the culmination of a four-year campaign to raise public outrage about a war he's always considered disastrous. His stance has earned him the enmity of the White House. Asked about Hagel last week in an interview with NEWSWEEK, Vice President Dick Cheney said: "I believe firmly in Ronald Reagan's 11th Commandment: THOU SHALT NOT SPEAK ILL OF A FELLOW REPUBLICAN. But it's very hard sometimes to adhere to that where Chuck Hagel is involved."

Cheney's outrage is laughable, of course. Hagel's opposition to the Iraq war comes from a very authentic place. Cheney's enthusiasm for the war is utterly venal, coming from a man who has five deferments and who told a reporter in 1989 that he "had other priorities in the '60s other than military service" -- one of which, it seems, was to get his wife pregnant so he could avoid military service.

Yes, it's true that Hagel voted for the resolution that authorized the Iraq war. And it's also true that it's easy to express regret now, when many people are angry about the war, for a vote cast to authorize the war at a time when the political cost for voting against the authorization would have been very high. Hagel says he was motivated by loyalty for the office of the President -- an explanation offered by many others who now wish they had voted differently.

But I say what matters is what you do now. If you think the troop increase is a terrible idea -- which many Republican lawmakers now do -- it shouldn't take that much courage to put your vote where your mouth is, given how deeply unpopular the war is now. Yet, not only is Chuck Hagel the only Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to vote for a nonbinding resolution opposing the surge, but he was gutsy enough to blast his fellow Republicans in front of the cameras for not doing so.

Even if Hagel does decide to run for president, his chances of being nominated are slim to none. Which is probably good, because my nightmare scenario is a ticket with Hagel running against Hillary Clinton. That would put me in the position of having to consider voting for a Republican for the first time in my life.

1 comment:

Charlie said...

I hope Hagel runs for President. He's a strong leader and you are quite right about him.