Thursday, January 18, 2007

Senator Hagel on CNN with Wolf Blitzer

Senator Chuck Hagel Interview
Aired January 17, 2007 - 16:00 ET

WOLF BLITZER: Republican Senator Chuck Hagel is proving once again today that he's one of the Bush administration's toughest critics when it comes to the war in Iraq. The Nebraskan's decision to team up with Democrats on the resolution opposing a troop build-up is a new slap at the president. The Vietnam War veteran hasn't ruled out a run for the White House in 2008, a race that's already being defined by the war in Iraq. Joining us now, Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska. He's a key member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Senator, thanks very much for joining us.


BLITZER: You've said that this is the worst foreign policy disaster for the United States, the war in Iraq, since the Vietnam War. Who do you blame?

HAGEL: Well, I think we could assign blame all around, Wolf. But the real issue is how do we move forward? How do we get out of this? We don't walk away and leave a mess, which we already have. We've got to think it through. That's going to require the American people being behind the president with a policy that can be sustained. That means a bipartisan consensus in the Congress. That's what Senators Biden and Levin and I introduced today. I think you're seeing a number of senators and congressmen over the last few days start to express themselves rather directly about what the president proposed Wednesday night. I don't believe that the best interests of our country, for the long-term and short-term, is served by escalating our military involvement in Iraq. Wolf, we've been there almost four years, thousands of American casualties, tens of thousands wounded, almost a half a trillion dollars spent. This is a tribal, sectarian civil war that has now embroiled Iraq. Yes, the territorial integrity of Iraq is critical for the Iraqis to have any opportunity to sort this out themselves, and we can help preserve that. We can't just pull out, nor should we, nor will we. But we've got to be wiser in how we use our people. To feed more young men and women into a civil war that we cannot stop or change is wrong. And it is devastating our military. It's devastating our standing in the Middle East. It's hurting our budget. It's destroying our military. So we need a new course of action. And only a sustained, bipartisan position that the American people will support will -- will be required to finish this over the next few years. And that's what we were talking about today.

BLITZER: A few years, Senator? You think this is going to go on a few more years?

HAGEL: Oh, of course it's going to go on a few more years. And the real question that we have to ask ourselves, Wolf, is what America's role is going to be in that -- that next step that the Iraqis are going to have to take. They are going to be the ones that will determine the fate of their country. We can't do that. We can help them. A number of the Baker-Hamilton Commission recommendations put forward, I thought, was representative of a good, new bipartisan foundation the president could have seized upon, using diplomacy, using our military force, using our influence to bring together a new framework, a new frame of reference for the future. How this all plays out in Iraq, I don't know. But I think what some of us are saying here, we're no longer going to just quietly stand by, as we have done, literally, for four years, and let more of our young Americans be thrown into this battle when they cannot change the outcome. This is an internal issue and the Iraqis themselves are going to have to sort this out. They must want their own freedom, their own future, more than we want it for them.

BLITZER: All right, senator, the White House has already said today that the resolution that you and Senator Levin and Senator Biden want to put forward is not going to affect the president's policies. They're going to go forward with their surge, as they call it, the increase of the U.S. troops. What else should be done if they ignore this symbolic, non- binding resolution?

HAGEL: Well, let's start with the fact that we have a form of government, Wolf, that represents co-equal branches of government. Article 1 of the constitution is not the presidency, it's the Congress. We have separation of powers, as it should be. But we have a co-equal branch of government. We need to be part of any resolution in foreign policy or any policy for our country. We have essentially walked away from that the last four years. So when the president talks about or his administration spokesmen say that regardless of what the Senate does or the Congress does in any resolution, we're not going to pay heed to that, I think they'll want to review that, because here is the way a democracy works, if people have forgotten. November 7th, the people of this country changed the management in Congress. It was over one issue more than any other, and it was Iraq. Seventy-three percent that I've seen in the last poll, and I believe it was your poll, last week, 73 percent of the people of America said that they disapproved of this administration's handling of Iraq. That should tell everyone something. There's accountability in leadership. There should be. There is accountability in politics.


HAGEL: Now, this is just the beginning, Wolf. This thing is going to play out over the next few months, with appropriations, more resolutions. You saw Senator Clinton's introduction of a bill today. This is just the beginning.

BLITZER: Well, she says there should be a cap, a ceiling, how many U.S. troops should be allowed to serve in Iraq. Do you support that?

HAGEL: Well, I haven't looked at it yet. But my point is this. There is going to be more than one resolution introduced. There's going to be more than one bill introduced. This is the biggest issue facing our country since Vietnam. It is dividing our nation, Wolf. It is dangerous for our country. It's dangerous for the world. The Congress needs to be part of this. The American people must come to some consensus, with some confidence, that somebody is mature up here, somebody is looking out for the interests of this country in the longer-term and the Congress needs to be part of that.

There must be a national debate on this issue, Wolf, and we haven't had one. There now will be and if the administration thinks that they can disregard whatever actions the Congress may take -- I can't predict what will happen -- I think they'll want to reevaluate this. This is not a monarchy, Wolf. We tried that once. It didn't work.

BLITZER: We're out of time, senator. A very quick question. Are you getting closer to a final decision whether or not to run for president?

HAGEL: I'll let you know, Wolf. I've got to make a decision soon and I will make that decision.

BLITZER: All right, we'll stand by for that, senator. Thanks very much. HAGEL: Thank you.

BLITZER: Chuck Hagel of Nebraska joining us. And let's check in with Jack Cafferty. He's got The Cafferty File in New York -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: How tough is that? You've got a Republican senator standing there saying this is not a monarchy? I mean that's pretty heavy artillery...

BLITZER: And he's a very...

CAFFERTY: ... coming from a member...

BLITZER: He's a very blunt guy. He's very outspoken, very smart.

CAFFERTY: Yes, he is.

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