Republican Senator Rips Bush on Iraq Strategy

Published on Wednesday, June 30, 2004 by the San Francisco Chronicle

Republican Senator Rips Bush on Iraq Strategy
Hagel says war hurt U.S. in terror battle

by James Sterngold

LOS ANGELES -- Sen. Chuck Hagel, an influential moderate Republican from Nebraska, sharply criticized the Bush administration in an interview here Tuesday, saying that the war in Iraq appears to have hurt America in its battle against terrorism.

Hagel, a politician sometimes mentioned as a future presidential contender, also said the United States is going to have to consider restarting the draft to maintain its many military commitments abroad.

In a sharp critique of the leader of his own party, Hagel said he believes the occupation of Iraq by the American military was poorly planned and has spread terrorist cells more widely around the world.

"This put in motion a new geographic dispersion" of the terrorists, said Hagel, 58, in an interview before delivering a speech to the World Affairs Council in Los Angeles. "It's harder to deal with them because they're not as contained. Iraq has become a training ground."

He added that although it is too soon to judge how the war in Iraq will ultimately influence the war on terror, in the short term it has created more terrorists and given them more targets -- American soldiers.

Hagel, a decorated veteran of the Vietnam War, said he agrees with President Bush that the duration of the war on terror might be measured in generations and that to sustain the badly overstretched military for the struggle, a new draft may be needed.

"We are seeing huge cracks developing in our force structure," he said. "The fact is, if we're going to continue with this, we're going to have to be honest with the American people."

Hagel is clearly trying to carve out a role for himself as a leading moderate voice within the Republican Party, particularly in foreign policy. He has given a string of speeches over the past year advocating a cooperative approach in foreign policy, and he wrote an essay in the current issue of "Foreign Affairs," a policy journal, in which he spells out his principles for a more internationalist and pragmatic Republican foreign policy.

A two-term senator, Hagel is regarded as a pragmatist who is ideologically out of line with the conservatives in the Bush administration. There were even reports recently that he had been courted by Sen. John Kerry, the likely Democratic nominee for president, as a vice presidential candidate.

Asked if he had been approached or if he would consider the offer, Hagel said he is a diehard Republican "and I'll stay in the Republican Party."

But after finding his moderate views largely ignored by the president, Hagel said he feels that Bush, who has taken a strong unilateral approach to foreign policy, is now being forced to embrace positions much closer to those Hagel and other moderates have advocated.

Hagel has pushed for the United States to work much more closely with the United Nations, NATO and America's principal allies in Europe. The president has been in Europe this week offering a more conciliatory face to the allies, and Hagel said the harsh reality of the war in Iraq has forced his hand.

"It's a whole different administration approach,'' Hagel said. "There is a newfound humility, a newfound realism" in the Bush administration.

In another area in which Hagel's views differ sharply from the president's, he suggested that the best way to ultimately win the war on terror is to earn the trust and respect of foreigners, especially younger people in the Arab world and other parts of the globe. The best way to do that, he said, is to make the United States more accessible to them and more open to immigration.

"We are pushing away our friends, our allies, the next generation around the world," Hagel said.

© Copyright 2004 San Francisco Chronicle

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