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Sep 3rd, 2009

BREAKING NEWSScores feared dead in Afghan tanker blast (Kunduz, Afghanistan, Sept. 4, 2009) — Dozens of people are feared dead in an explosion early Friday involving fuel tankers in northern Afghanistan that followed a NATO airstrike in the area, Afghan officials said. … Full story


Today, former U.S. Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) — the man I hope President Barack Obama nominates to succeed Robert Gates as U.S. Secretary of Defense — published an important op-ed in the Washington Post. The full article is reproduced below.

Sen. Chuck Hagel

The Limits of Force

Iraq and Afghanistan aren’t ours to win or lose

By Chuck Hagel

September 3, 2009

The other night I watched the film “The Deer Hunter.” Afterward, I remembered why it took me so many years to be able to watch Vietnam movies.

It all came tumbling back — the tragedy, the innocent victims, the waste. Too often in Washington we tend to see foreign policy as an abstraction, with little understanding of what we are committing our country to: the complications and consequences of endeavors. It is easy to get into war, not so easy to get out. Vietnam lasted more than 10 years; soon, we will slip into our ninth year in Afghanistan. We have been in Iraq for almost seven years.

When I came to the Senate in 1997, the world was being redefined by forces no single country controlled or understood. The implosion of the Soviet Union and a historic diffusion of economic and geopolitical power created new influences and established new global power centers — and new threats. The events of Sept. 11, 2001, shocked America into this reality. The Sept. 11 commission pointed out that the attacks were as much about failures of our intelligence and security systems as about the terrorists’ success.

The U.S. response, engaging in two wars, was a 20th-century reaction to 21st-century realities. These wars have cost more than 5,100 American lives; more than 35,000 have been wounded; a trillion dollars has been spent, with billions more departing our Treasury each month. We forgot all the lessons of Vietnam and the preceding history.

No country today has the power to impose its will and values on other nations. As the new world order takes shape, America must lead by building coalitions of common interests, as we did after World War II. Then, international organizations such as the United Nations, NATO, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and GATT (now the World Trade Organization) — while flawed — established boundaries for human and government conduct and expectations that helped keep the world from drifting into World War III and generally made life better for most people worldwide during the second half of the 20th century.

Our greatest threats today come from the regions left behind after World War II. Addressing these threats will require a foreign policy underpinned by engagement — in other words, active diplomacy but not appeasement.

We need a clearly defined strategy that accounts for the interconnected-ness and the shared interests of all nations. Every great threat to the United States — whether economic, terrorism, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, health pandemics, environmental degradation, energy, or water and food shortages — also threatens our global partners and rivals.

Accordingly, we cannot view U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan through a lens that sees only “winning” or “losing.” Iraq and Afghanistan are not America’s to win or lose. Win what? We can help them buy time or develop, but we cannot control their fates. There are too many cultural, ethnic and religious dynamics at play in these regions for any one nation to control. For example, the future of Afghanistan is linked directly to Pakistan and what happens in the mountains along their border. Political accommodation and reconciliation in this region will determine the outcome.

Bogging down large armies in historically complex, dangerous areas ends in disaster. In Vietnam, we kept feeding more men, material and money into a corrupt Vietnamese government as our own leaders continued to deceive themselves and the American people. Today’s wars are quite different from Vietnam. But the Obama administration, Congress and the Pentagon must get this right because it will frame the global architecture for the next generation.

We must put forward fresh thinking. We can no longer hold ourselves to narrow “single issue” engagement when dealing with nations such as China, Russia, India, Brazil, Turkey or South Korea. The United States needs all these countries and many more if we are to engage the most dangerous challenges — not one at a time but all together.

Our relationships with these nations have matured since World War II, as these nations have matured. Does anyone believe we will get to a responsible resolution on Iran without Russia? There’s a reason we are part of a Group of 20 rather than a G-8. Even the world’s largest economies cannot handle today’s problems alone.

Global collaboration does not mean retreating from our standards, values or sovereignty. Development of seamless networks of intelligence gathering and sharing, and strengthening alliances, diplomatic cooperation, trade and development can make the biggest long-term difference and have the most lasting impact on building a more stable and secure world.

There really are people and organizations committed to destroying America, and we need an agile, flexible and strong military to face these threats. How, when and where we use force are as important as the decision to use it. Relying on the use of force as a centerpiece of our global strategy, as we have in recent years, is economically, strategically and politically unsustainable and will result in unnecessary tragedy — especially for the men and women, and their families, who serve our country.

Are our policies worthy of these Americans’ great sacrifices? That question must always be at the fore of our leaders’ decisions. Threats to America come from more than Afghanistan. Consider Yemen and Somalia. Are we prepared to put U.S. ground troops there? I doubt we would seriously consider putting forces in Pakistan, yet its vast Federally Administered Tribal Areas and mountainous western border harbor our most dangerous enemies today. We must shift our thinking, now, to pursue wiser courses of action and sharper, more relevant policies.

The president and his national security team should listen to recordings of conversations that President Lyndon B. Johnson had with Sen. Richard Russell about Vietnam, especially those in which LBJ told Russell that we could not win in Vietnam but that he did not want to pull out and be the first American president to lose a war. Difficult decisions with historic consequences are coming soon for President Obama.

The writer is a former Republican senator from Nebraska.


Gates: Now Not the Time to Leave Afghanistan


Gates, Mullen on McChrystal report (MSNBC, Sept. 3, 2009) — Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, discuss the review process for Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s military assessment of Afghanistan. (02:18)

The Associated Press and NBC News’ Jim Miklaszewski via MSNBC
September 3, 2009

WASHINGTON — Facing eroding public support for the war in Afghanistan, the Pentagon chief said Thursday that the Obama administration’s effort in the eight-year-old conflict is “only now beginning.”

Defense Secretary Robert Gates also said he disagrees with people who say it’s time to get out of Afghanistan.

But Gates indicated he might drop his reluctance for a larger military presence in Afghanistan. Gates indicated that the new strategy from Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the new U.S. and NATO commander, puts a larger emphasis on “protecting the Afghan people” and may be a game changer.

“It’s not the size of the footprint, but the nature of the footprint” that matters, said Gates.

Gates also said after eight years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan he understands why public support for the war in Afghanistan is slipping – but tried to remind Americans that the war there stemmed from the 9/11 attacks and is aimed at preventing Afghanistan from once again becoming a safe haven for terrorists.

Several recent public opinion polls have shown Americans expressing declining support for the idea of sending more troops to the conflict and falling confidence in how the campaign is going. But at a Pentagon news conference, Gates challenged the public perception that the effort is getting away from the administration.

“I don’t believe that the war is slipping through the administration’s fingers,” Gates said. “The nation has been at war for eight years. The fact that Americans would be tired of having their sons and daughters at risk and in battle is not surprising.”

Gates argued that President Barack Obama’s new strategy in Afghanistan hasn’t even been given a chance to work.

“I think what is important to remember is the president’s decisions on this strategy were only made at the very end of March; our new commander appeared on the scene in June,” Gates said, adding that the extra troops Obama ordered are not even all there yet, nor is the “civilian surge” he wants on hand to help.

“So we are only now beginning to be in a position to have the assets in place and the strategy or the military approach in place to begin to implement the strategy,” he said.

McChrystal on Monday delivered a classified assessment of how the war is going and is expected in the coming weeks to ask for more troops and money to turn the war around.

Obama is reading the report during his vacation at Camp David, his aides said. …

Much of the debate around Afghanistan has centered on how many troops are needed there, and for how long. By the end of the year, an estimated 68,000 troops will be in Afghanistan – 21,000 of which were ordered there by Obama last spring. Military commanders and State Department officials on the ground, however, say many more are needed to get the job done. …


September 1, 2009

Former Sen. Chuck Hagel Delivers Eugene J. McCarthy Lecture

Sen. Chuck Hagel

COLLEGEVILLE, Minn. — In 1967-68, Minnesota Sen. Eugene McCarthy opposed President Lyndon Johnsons policies regarding the Vietnam War — even though McCarthy initially supported the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution that authorized American use of force in Vietnam.

On Aug. 25, 2005, Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel became the first Republican senator to publicly criticize the Iraqi War and call for the withdrawal of American troops — even though Hagel initially supported the use of force in Iraq.

Almost 40 years apart, McCarthy and Hagel spoke out and challenged a U.S. foreign policy position advocated by the sitting president of their own party.

Hagel will deliver the third annual Eugene J. McCarthy Lecture at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 23 at the Stephen B. Humphrey Theater, Saint John’s University. The lecture, which is free and open to the public, is sponsored by The Eugene J. McCarthy Center for Public Policy and Civic Engagement, and is co-sponsored by the SJU University Chair in Critical Thinking.

Hagel, a native of North Platte, Neb., served in the Senate from 1997 to 2009 (he was not a candidate for reelection in 2008). He served on four Senate committees: Foreign Relations; Banking; Housing and Urban Affairs; and Intelligence and Rules.

A graduate of the University of Nebraska-Omaha, Hagel served in Vietnam with the U.S. Army, where he earned two Purple Heart medals. Following his tour of duty, he was a newscaster and talk-show host in Omaha.

His career in Washington began in 1971, when he became an administrative assistant to Nebraska Congressman John McCollister, serving until 1977. Hagel then became manager of government affairs for the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company (1977-80) before returning to the governmental sector as deputy administrator of the U.S. Veterans Administration (1981-82).

After leaving the Veterans Administration, he became an investment banker and business executive in Washington and Omaha. Hagel was named deputy director and chief executive officer of the Economic Summit of Industrialized Nations (G-7) in 1990.

Hagel has also co-written a book, America: Our Next Chapter: Tough Questions, Straight Answers (Ecco Press, 2008), with Peter Kaminsky. Former Secretary of State and retired Gen. Colin Powell said that Hagel “writes with insight, expertise, authority and with the credentials that come from his dedicated service in war and peace.”

The Eugene J. McCarthy Lecture was established in January 2006. McCarthy spent seven years as a student at Saint John’s Preparatory School and University, and nearly one year as a member of the Benedictine community of Saint John’s Abbey.

The lecture series carries on McCarthy’s deep commitment to the ideals and principles of democratic self-government. It seeks to inspire a new generation of young people to pursue fresh ideas, to challenge the status quo, to effect positive change in their communities and, like McCarthy himself, to lead with honesty, integrity and courage.

Past lecturers in the series have included newspaper columnist, author and commentator E.J. Dionne (2007), and civil rights leader Julian Bond (2008).


8/24/2010 Update

Endorsement: Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense

By Solomon Kleinsmith
Rise of the Center
August 24, 2010


Hagel isn’t as moderate as people make him out to be, but he did take a number of principled stands against his own party that garnered him hatred among his own party here in Nebraska, which many attest to at least part of the reasoning behind his decision not to run again in 2008, but also a lot of respect from practical minded politicians everywhere. His lack of endorsement for McCain, following McCain’s obvious play to the GOP base to gain the nod, is just further testament to his good judgment.

He is however very common-sensical, and rather transpartisan, in his approach towards foreign policy. He’s got all the chops Obama would need, and then some, for a replacement for Gates, and for all intents and purposes, he seems like a shoe in for the job.

I hope it happens. For what its worth, his potential future candidacy has my wholehearted endorsement.


Related reports on this site

Endorsement: Sen. Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense (Dec. 21, 2012)

Chuck Hagel McCarthy Lecture (Sept. 24, 2009)

Sen. Chuck Hagel Speaks in Minnesota (Sept. 23, 2009)

Chuck Hagel to Deliver Eugene McCarthy Lecture (July 29, 2009)

Hagel Lambasts Limbaugh (Nov. 19, 2008)


FROM THE ARCHIVES: One Year Ago Today — September 3, 2008

Rep. Michele Bachmann at the RNC.

On the Campaign Trail: Day 51

One year ago today, on the 51st day of my campaign against U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann for the Republican nomination as House of Representatives candidate in Minnesota’s 6th Congressional District, I released a video statement regarding the serious national security implications of the Iraq war, which Rep. Bachmann failed to address the previous evening in her speech at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul.

The full text of the statement is available on the blog entry for August 30, 2008.

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