Monday, January 07, 2013

McCain's Long War on Hagel

Unseen in the cloud of preemptive dust over the nomination for Secretary of Defense is more than a decade of fallout from a friendship with John McCain that broke apart into bitterness.

Chuck Hagel had supported the fellow Vietnam veteran’s run for president in 2000 but then angered his Senate colleague to the point that McCain, moving to the Neo-Con Right, approvingly posted on his own web site a Los Angeles Times article of March 3, 2001 (months before 9/11) headlined “On Iraq, GOP Split Over Gaining World Respect or Enforcing It.”

It read: “Hagel has repeatedly warned that the United States must disarm Iraq in a way that reinforces international alliances...McCain has become the champion of the hard-line neoconservative thinkers who want to move quickly against Iraq, no matter how many countries agree...

“In all, while Hagel argues that broadening international cooperation is the key to security in this new era, McCain believes ‘credibility’ in delivering military force is the top priority. The one is focused on winning respect, the other believes in enforcing it.”

A year and a half later, as the Bush Administration prepared to invade Iraq, Hagel called Chief of Staff Andy Card to ask why the President would consider going to war “without Congress being with him?” As a result, Hagel later revealed, “a few of us--Joe Biden, Dick Lugar, and I--were invited to discussions with the White House...

“Finally, begrudgingly, they sent over a resolution for Congress to approve. Well, it was astounding. It said they could go anywhere in the region...Sure as hell it was clear they meant the whole Middle East. It was anything they wanted.”

Hagel, Biden and Lugar “had to rewrite it...stripped the language the White House had set up and put our language in it.” That was what Congress approved.

More than a decade later, GOP elephants who never forget are piling on Hagel for his party sin of being a premature opponent of Bush’s war, which later morphed into McCain’s.

Whatever the merits of side issues such as a Hagel remark about Israel and another about gays, a serious Senate confirmation process will have to take account of his courage and tenacity over Iraq that proved to be as right as McCain was wrong.

Barack Obama was in the Senate then too and observed Hagel’s qualities up close. His action today bears witness to what he saw and why he wants McCain's nemesis with him as his second term starts. 

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