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Novak on Hagel--WashPost 4/30/07

*Hagel's Stand
By Robert D. Novak
Monday, April 30, 2007; A15
*Sen. Chuck Hagel*
<>* returned
from his fifth visit to Iraq to become one of two Republicans to join
Senate Democrats in voting Thursday to **begin withdrawal*
of U.S. troops. It was not an easy vote for a conservative GOP regular
and faithful supporter of President George W. Bush's other policies. A
few days earlier, Hagel sat down with me and painted a bleak picture of
the war and U.S. policy.*

Over a dozen years, I have had many such conversations with Hagel, but
not for quotation. This time, I asked him to go on the record about his
assessment of what the "surge" has accomplished. In language more blunt
than his prepared speeches and articles, he described Iraq as "coming
undone," with its regime "weaker by the day." He deplored the Bush
administration's failure to craft a coherent Middle East policy, blaming
the influence of deputy national security adviser Elliott Abrams. *

*Hagel faces a political paradox as he ponders a career decision --
whether to run for * *president*
to seek reelection next year or to get out of elective politics. His
harsh assessment resonates with many Republicans who believe Bush's war
policy has led the party to disaster. Yet that message faces rejection
from GOP primary voters, and he is under attack from the right at home
in Nebraska (with Jon Bruning, the state's 38-year-old Republican
attorney general, threatening to run against him). *

*After his latest visit to Iraq, with stops in Baghdad, Fallujah and
Ramadi, Hagel told me: "This thing is really coming undone quickly, and
[Prime Minister] Maliki's government is weaker by the day. The police
are corrupt, top to bottom. The oil problem is a huge problem. They
still can't get anything through the parliament -- no hydrocarbon law,
no de-Baathification law, no provincial elections," which are needed to
bring Sunnis into the governing process. *

*The regional problem, as described by Hagel, is a U.S. policy breakdown
with the failure to engage Iran and Syria. "I do know that there are a
number of Israelis who would like to engage Syria," said Hagel. "They
have said that Elliott Abrams keeps pushing them back." He quoted
foreign ministers, ambassadors and former U.S. officials as saying that
they believe Abrams "is making policy in the Middle East."*

*Hagel certainly is no peace-now zealot. "We're not going to
precipitously pull out," he told me. "We have [national] interests in
Iraq." While he asserted that "we can't get out by the end of the year,"
he called for "pulling some of our guys out -- not all of them, but
you've got to get them out of [Baghdad] at least, get them out of the
middle of civil war." If not, Hagel said, "then the prospects of the
Republican Party are very dim next year." *

*What about claims by proponents of the Iraqi intervention that failure
to stop the terrorists in Iraq will open the door to them in the
American homeland?*

*"That's nonsense," Hagel replied. "I've never believed that. That's the
same kind of rhetoric and thinking that neocons used to get us into this
mess and everything that [Donald] Rumsfeld, [Paul] Wolfowitz, [Richard]
Perle, [Douglas] Feith and the vice president all said. Nothing turned
out the way they said it would." *

*It is "nonsense," Hagel said, because "Iraq is not embroiled in a
terrorist war today." Hagel, a member of the Senate Intelligence
Committee, cited "national intelligence" attributing "maybe 10 percent"
of the insurgency and violence to al-Qaeda. Indeed, he described
Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds as opposed to al-Qaeda: "They don't like the
terrorists. What's happened in Anbar province is the tribes are finally
starting to connect with us because al-Qaeda started killing some of
their leadership and threatening their people. So the tribes now are at
war with al-Qaeda." *

*"So," said Hagel, "when I hear people say, 'Well, if we leave them to
that, it will be chaos' -- what do you think is going on now? Scaring
the American people into this blind alley is so dangerous." *

*These judgments come from someone credited with rebuilding Nebraska's
Republican Party and who has earned a lifetime conservative voting
rating of 85.2 percent from the American Conservative Union. Hagel
represents millions of Republicans who are repelled by the Democrats'
personal assault on President Bush but are deeply unhappy about his
course in Iraq. *

/*? 2007 Creators Syndicate Inc.*/
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