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U.S. Foreign Policy and the Middle East [Rush Transcript; Federal News Service, Inc.]

Speaker: Chuck Hagel, Member, U.S. Senate (R-NE)
Presider: Richard Haas, President, Council on Foreign Relations
November 15, 2005
Council on Foreign Relations Washington, DC

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Council on Foreign Relations
Washington, DC

November 15, 2005

RICHARD HAASS: Well, there's a few things in life worth waiting for. There's Christmas, baseball in Washington, and Chuck Hagel.

SENATOR CHUCK HAGEL: Oh, thank you.

HAASS: Seriously, thank you all for your patience. Thank the senator for breaking away from that vote-laden Senate. I will keep what was going to be a short introduction particularly short.

The senator, as you know -- or as you may know -- is in his second term. He is the senior senator from a state called Nebraska, which I've heard a lot about. I've been to once. He is a three-fer. He's someone who's got a distinguished military record, a Vietnam War vet. He's succeeded in the private sector. And he is now, I believe, one of the leading lights and voices in the Congress and in the Senate. He stands for independence, he stands for integrity, and he is particularly thoughtful.

So, Chuck, I want to thank you for again coming back to the council. And by the way, I left out the most important thing. He's also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. I left out that. I hope that doesn't hurt you -- cost you too many votes back home!

And the way it's going to work this afternoon is Senator Hagel is going to speak for 20, 25 minutes, give us some prepared remarks on foreign policy. The timing in that sense could not be better, given what's going on on the Hill, the president's in Asia, and a few other things I hear are going on in the world. I will then maybe ask a question or two, at most, and then I will throw it open to you all. I feel that those of you, again, who have been so patient deserve to be rewarded.

So with that, Senator Cabel (sic) -- Senator Hagel -- (laughter) -- the microphone is yours.

HAGEL: Thank you, Richard. Thank you. (Applause.) Thank you, Richard. Appreciate it.

Richard, thank you. And I appreciate, as always, an opportunity to exchange some thoughts with your organization and see you. And I am particularly grateful that you would give me a little cushion and understand that the Senate is not a very well organized institution, as you may know. I know probably some are shocked to hear that. But nonetheless, we had a series of six roll-call votes, which we just finished. And most of those roll-call votes are very timely and very appropriate to some of the discussion we'll have here this afternoon. And I told Richard I will be very pleased to stay and answer questions and receive your enlightened commentary, rather than Haass's. But the rest of you, I do put a high value on your thoughts. So thank you for giving me this opportunity.

Last year, I wrote in Foreign Affairs magazine that, quote, "a wise foreign policy recognizes that U.S. leadership is determined as much by our commitment to principle as by our exercise of power." End of quote. For decades, the strength of U.S. leadership has brought together allies in common cause, addressing common challenges with common action.

In February 2003, three weeks before the U.S. invaded Iraq, I said in a speech at Kansas State University, quote, "America must approach the world with a sense of purpose in world affairs that is anchored by our ideals, a principled realism that seeks not to re-make the world in our image, but to help make a better world. We must avoid the traps of hubris and imperial temptation that come with great power. Our foreign policy should reflect the hope and promise of America tempered with a mature wisdom that is the mark of our national character. In this new era of possibilities and responsibilities, America will require a wider-lens view of how the world sees us, so that we can better understand the world, and our role in it." End of quote.

President Haass had, I think, a very enlightened op ed on this issue last week, which I'm sure most of you read.

Trust and confidence in America is about more than our military might or economic power. Power alone will not build coalitions, will not inspire trust, will not demonstrate confident leadership, will not resolve complicated problems, and will not defeat the threats that the United States will confront in the 21st century.

After World War II, America used its leadership and power to help forge a consensus on vital international issues. We built relationships, alliances, and international organizations. By doing so, we enhanced our power, our ability to influence, and our ability to protect our national interests. These institutions are as vital today as when they were formed. They need constant adjustment to reflect the realities of today and tomorrow. But what remains unchanged is the critical importance of these alliances to achieve global stability. America's past leaders recognized that the United States alone -- the United States alone -- was incapable of confronting global threats and challenges. We must maintain a clear-eyed focus on our vital interests and understand regional complexities and dynamics as we pursue our strategic objectives.

The recent violence during President Bush's trip to South America and the reluctance of some of our regional neighbors to pursue a regional free trade agreement underscores this point. Nowhere is this perspective more important than in the Middle East. Ethnic currents, nationalist and religious ideologies, historical tensions, and long-running conflicts intersect to create a complex regional dynamic. For there to be any hope of peace and stability in the Middle East, American policies must be based on regional perspectives and relationships.

A close friend and ally, Israel, remains threatened by some of its neighbors. Violent Islamic extremism finds refuge in Iraq, Iran and Syria and seeks to make inroads elsewhere in the region. The proliferation of weapons of mass destruction remains a threat. Political and economic reform is limited and incomplete. And the United States has nearly 160,000 soldiers in Iraq in support of Iraq's uncertain future.

As President George H.W. Bush's National Security Advisor, General Brent Scowcroft, wrote last year, last November, in the Washington Post, quote, "We no longer have the luxury of treating Middle East policy as a series of unrelated events running on separate calendars. We face the need for simultaneous actions to avoid states -- failed states while reducing the incentives to violence and instability that threaten American and friendly states throughout the region. Iraq, Israel-Palestine, Iran and terrorism are parts of a whole and can only be satisfactorily engaged as such. To cut through this Gordian knot will require not only a new approach, but the deep, sustained commitment of the United States and a significant investment of the President's attention," end of quote.

The challenges that we face in the Middle East are more real today than when Brent Scowcroft wrote that piece a year ago. The unity of Iraq is not assured and its insurgency risks further destabilization of its neighbors. The shakiness of the Assad regime in Syria, the recent terrorist bombings in Jordan, and Islamic extremism in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the region continue to pose dangerous threats to regional stability. Many Arab states are concerned that Iran is emerging as the big regional winner.

Trust and confidence in the United States has been seriously eroded. We are seen by many in the Middle East as an obstacle to peace, an aggressor, an occupier. Our policies are a source of significant friction not only in the region, but in the wider international community. Our purpose and power are questioned. We are at the same time both a stabilizing and a destabilizing force in the Middle East. We face the possibility of a much more dangerous and destabilized Middle East with consequences that would extend far beyond the region's borders.

There have been positive, recent developments in Libya, Syria, Lebanon and Gaza. To maximize the potential of these developments, the United States must demonstrate diplomatic agility to adjust and respond to the uncertainties, nuances and uncontrollables that the region will continue to face.

Iraq held a successful constitutional referendum on October 15. Iraqi political parties are now preparing for parliamentary elections on December 15 leading to the formation of a constitutionally-based, freely-elected government. As Iraq moves toward achieving a formal political transition, the United States should recognize that we must act to help build an international consensus on Iraq and address the regional complexities of the Middle East. We have few good options.

Our strategic goal should be to get out of Iraq under conditions that offer Iraq the best possible opportunity for success -- Iraqi success being defined as a free and self-governing country. This is not about setting a timeline. This is about pursuing policies designed to gradually pull the United States further away from the day-to-day responsibilities of defending Iraq and de facto governance of Iraq, and encouraging and demanding more responsibility from the Iraqis.

The future of Iraq will not be determined by the United States. The future of Iraq will be determined by the Iraqi people and its leaders. The new Iraqi government will have the potential for a wider vision and a longer horizon, establishing more stability and more confidence to engage the challenges that lie ahead. The recent decision by the U.N. Security Council to extend the mandate for the multinational forces in Iraq until the end of 2006 helps the next Iraqi government develop its capabilities to govern, defend and support itself, while continuing to limit America's role as the only real "enforcer" in Iraq.

As the Iraqi government assumes more responsibility for governing Iraq, so too must Iraq's forces continue to take on more responsibility to defend their country. The U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, underscored this point on October 25th when he told Gwen Ifill on The News Hour with Jim Lehrer that he believes that the United States is, quote, "on the right track to start significant reductions of U.S. military forces in the coming year," end of quote. I believe the United States should begin drawing down forces in Iraq next year.

U.S. military power is not a surrogate force upon which Iraq can indefinitely depend. The current Iraqi government's announcement on November 2nd to accept the return of junior officers of the former Iraqi government and army -- reversing U.S. Ambassador Paul Bremer's decision to disband Hussein's armed forces -- was a critically important development. Political confidence and military capability will reinforce and strengthen Iraq's ability to govern and defend itself and sustain that confidence. We should not obstruct this development. The United States must encourage and expect demonstrations of new Iraqi independence and decision-making.

Secretary Rice acknowledged before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on October 19th, quote, "There is no doubt the international community needs to be more involved with the Iraqis -- there's no doubt about it -- especially the neighbors," end of quote. But, today there is no standing mechanism for regional partners, with support from the international community, to develop consensus on building relationships around common security, political and economic interests.

Henry Kissinger wrote in the Washington Post in August of this year that we need, quote, "A political initiative inviting an international framework for Iraq's future. Some of our allies may prefer to act as bystanders, but reality will not permit this for their own safety. Their cooperation is needed, not so much for the military as for the political task, which will test, above all, the West's statesmanship in shaping a global system relevant to its necessities, " end of the Kissinger quote.

Once the newly elected Iraqi government is in place after the December 15th elections, the United States, along with its allies, should propose a ministerial-level regional security conference on Iraq. This conference should be held in the region, perhaps with Egypt, and should be endorsed by a new U.N. Security Council resolution. The conference would bring together Iraq and its regional neighbors, Turkey, Jordan, Iran, Syria, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. The G-8 countries and international institutions, such as the U.N., the EU, NATO and the World Bank, should also be involved in this effort.

The conference agenda should focus on the three pillars for Middle East stability: security, political and economic. The conference would be broader, both in its agenda and participation, than the upcoming meeting in Cairo on Iraqi reconciliation that the Arab League has proposed. Unlike last weekend's Forum for the Future meeting in Bahrain, which emphasized reform and economic growth, this conference would be focused on building regional cohesion based, at least initially, on Iraq.

And unlike past international conferences on Iraq -- Sharm el-Sheikh in November 2004 and Brussels in June 2005 -- this conference would not be a one-time event. The conference must produce agreement to maintain and regularly convene a sub-ministerial forum structured to effectively address Iraq's ongoing challenges.

Most important, it cannot be seen as a U.S.-imposed event to further U.S. interests and influence in the Middle East. Creating a formalized regional mechanism is vital for security in the Middle East. Iraq's neighbors will be the countries most impacted by the outcome there. Although a regional mechanism does not assure Iraq's success, the active involvement of the countries in the region allows a more promising future of stability for Iraq and lessens the chances for civil war and sectarian violence. It also lessens the possibilities that further instability and violence in Iraq will spread like a raging inferno throughout the region.

Establishing a regional and international umbrella for Iraq would mean that the United States take a shared role in a regional security conference. This does not mean that America would withdraw abruptly from Iraq. The United States should continue to leverage its influence, urging all Iraqi parties to use the political process to address the deep fractures of their society. We must also remain focused on the mission of standing up capable Iraqi security forces.

The international community must now recognize the changed circumstances of a constitutionally-based Iraqi government and join Iraq's neighbors by investing in Iraq's future. The role for international institutions will grow in importance in Iraq as Iraq becomes more self-assured and able to govern. The World Bank, the United Nations and NATO all need to be more actively engaged in Iraq.

The oil-for-food debacle is a stain on the U.N.'s reputation in Iraq but that is not the U.N.'s role in Iraq today. The United Nations can help provide Iraq both a broader political umbrella, and greater support and expertise to help build and coordinate government institutions, programs and structures. Last weekend's visit by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to Iraq, his first visit since the war began, should help lead to this expanded role for the United Nations.

The Iraq war should not be debated in the United States on a partisan political platform. This debases our country, trivializes the seriousness of war, and cheapens the service and sacrifices of our men and women in uniform. War is not a Republican or Democrat issue. The casualties of war are both -- are from both parties.

The Bush administration must understand that each American has a right to question our policies in Iraq and elsewhere, and should not be demonized or condemned for disagreeing with them. Suggesting that to challenge or criticize policy is undermining and hurting our troops is not democracy nor what this country has stood for, for over 200 years.

The Democrats have an obligation to challenge in a serious and responsible manner, offering solutions and alternatives to the administration's policies. Vietnam was a national tragedy partly because members of Congress failed their country; they remained silent and lacked the courage to challenge the administrations in power until it was too late. Some of us who went through that nightmare have an obligation to the 58,000 Americans who died in Vietnam to not let that happen again.

To question your government is not unpatriotic. To not question your government is unpatriotic.

America owes its men and women in uniform a policy worthy of their sacrifices.

Today, the Senate engaged in a legitimate debate over exit strategy in Iraq as the Senate considered and voted on two Senate resolutions. This is a significant step toward the Congress exercising its constitutional responsibilities over matters of war. Congress has been absent from this debate.

As we consider the regional context of stability and security in Iraq, there is another issue that we must deal with: a relationship between the United States and Iran. The fact that our two governments cannot or will not sit down to exchange views must end.

Iran is a regional power; it has major influence in Iraq and throughout the Gulf region. Its support of terrorist organizations and the threat it poses to Israel is all the more reason that the U.S. must engage Iran. Any lasting solution to Iran's nuclear weapons program will also require the United States' direct discussions with Iran.

The United States is capable of engaging Iran in direct dialogue without sacrificing any of its interests or objectives. As a start, we should have direct discussions with Iran on the margins of any regional security conference on Iraq, as we did with Iran in the case of Afghanistan.

As Abbas Milani, director of Iranian studies at Stanford, co-director of the Hoover Institution's Iran Democracy Project, and former professor at Tehran University, wrote in The Wall Street Journal on October 31st, and I quote, "The time for a new grand bargain with Iran's people has arrived. Instead of saber-rattling, the United States must encourage the unfolding discussions in Iran. Every element of this new bargain -- ending the embargo and replacing it with smart sanctions, lifting the bans on airline spare parts, and offering earthquake warning systems, and even direct discussions with the regime -- must be seen as part of a grand strategy to help the Iranian people achieve their dream of democracy," end of quote.

America and the West need to pursue a wise course in considering the impact of our actions on those in Iran -- (extended audio break from source). It further erodes the world's confidence in America's word and our purpose. As columnist Jim Hoagland wrote last weekend in The Washington Post, quote, "Policies and attitudes have to change, too. Lifting the legal fog that intentionally envelops Guantanamo detainees is an urgent need, to reaffirm Americans' commitment to the rule of law, as well as to stabilize the country's standing abroad. So is establishing with Congress accountability and some form of transparency for prisoners held abroad for U.S. purposes," end of quote.

The Constitution also establishes Congress' authority and responsibility regarding decisions to go to war. The course of events in Iraq has laid bare the failure to prepare for, plan for, and understand the broad consequences and implications of the decision to overthrow Saddam Hussein and occupy Iraq. Where is the accountability?

In the November 8th Washington Post, Leslie Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, and Anne-Marie Slaughter, dean of the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University, wrote, and I quote, "Our Founding Fathers wanted the declaration of war to concentrate the minds. Returning to the Constitution's text and making it work through legislation requiring joint deliberate action may be the only way to give the decision to make war the care it deserves," end of quote.

The American people should demand that the president request a declaration of war and the Congress formally declare war, if and when the president believes that committing American troops is in the vital national security interests of this country. This would make the president and Congress, together, accountable for their actions, just as the Founders of our country intended.

One of America's greatest 21st century challenges is not to lose the next generation of the world, especially the next generation of Muslims. This is a generation that yearns for the opportunity and possibilities of globalization and reform. This is a generation that is prepared to embrace the politics of change and reform.

We cannot afford to lose this generation, in the Middle East and around the world, for if we do, my children and your children will inherit a very dangerous and complicated world. The choices that America makes today, the policies we pursue, the actions we take, the friends and allies we make, and our preparation for the future will define the global frame of reference and our role in the world, for decades to come.

I have spoken today about the regional interconnects of the Middle East and the need for new strategic U.S. thinking and policy. This is not unique to only this region. Regional dynamics infuse the challenges we face around the world -- Asia, Africa, the Eurasian land mass, the Western Hemisphere. What the United States must help prevent is the possibility of several destabilizing events across regions. The complexities of the 21st century demand strategic, over-the-horizon American thinking, diplomacy and leadership. That will require creative diplomacy and a recognition of the varied perspectives and values of other countries. We can help countries reach their destination, but it must be on their terms and their way, or it will fail and create a deep and dangerous anti-Americanism throughout the world.

A few weeks ago, I was looking through some old photographs and letters that my father wrote to his parents and sister when he was in the South Pacific during World War II. In that collection, I found a picture of my father when he was the commander of American Legion Post 84 in Ainsworth, Nebraska, and my mother when she was president of the American Legion Auxiliary back in the early 1950s. I started thinking about how my family's life revolved around the American Legion and this country; what it meant to my family; that spirit of helping others, service, patriotism. It is all who we are as Americans.

When Americans -- when America's actions abroad have reflected these core values, we have inspired trust and confidence in the world. Demonstrating America's purpose is at the heart of America's strength. Nations, like individuals, must earn respect, confidence and the right to lead.

As I said at Kansas State three weeks before we invaded Iraq, quote, "What distinguishes America is not our power, for the world has known great power. It is America's purpose and our commitment to making a better life for all people. That is the America the world needs to see -- a wise, thoughtful and steady nation, worthy of its power, generous of spirit and humble in its purpose."

Thank you very much. (Applause.) Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

HAASS: Well, thank you, Senator, for comments that were powerful, substantive, even eloquent. So thank you.

Let me just ask one or two things to start things off, and then I promise to open it up.

Senator, you were very clear about lots of things, and I expect the journalists here will have -- their biggest problem tonight will be to decide what their lead is.

For one or two areas I'm still a little bit unclear, so let me -- maybe it's just me, in which case I apologize to the rest of you.

On Iraq, I don't have your text in front of me, but you said something to the effect that, in your view, the United States should begin withdrawing military forces from Iraq in 2006. Is there something in that that's different from the administration policy? The president commonly says we should stay the course; we stand down as they stand up. Are you suggesting -- is there something different between what he's saying and what you're saying?

HAGEL: I cannot answer for the administration's policy. You'd have to address that to the president or Secretary Rice or others.

I can address my thoughts, and what I said today is not new from where I have been and what I have thought and for the reasons I noted in my speech as to why I thought it was important and have thought for some time that we start bringing some of our troops home. I suspect that it's not too dissimilar from Ambassador Khalilzad's remarks and the reasoning behind those remarks that he shared on the Lehrer hour last month.

I do believe that the longer we stay there, as I said in my remarks, as the enforcer, de facto government and the security blanket -- and remember, we will have been there three years, three years in March -- then I do not understand how that, in fact, develops the strength the Iraqis are going to have to find to not only govern their own country but defend and support their own country.

But to your point about the new strategy, I fear that the problem with that is that we don't have the kind of force structure that will ever allow that to work. You are now seeing many of our soldiers and Marines in Iraq on their fourth tours; 40 to 45 percent of that force structure is National Guard and Reserve. As General McCaffrey told our committee in September -- General McCaffrey's words -- the wheels are coming off the National Guard within 24 months. I see it when I go home to Nebraska and listen to reservists and National Guardsmen who have come back. The head of the Army Reserve, a three-star Army general, wrote a rather direct letter to the chief of staff of the Army, back in December, speaking of this.

So it might be a fine policy, but I don't think you've got the force structure to make that work. And I think it further strains that force structure and debilitates that force structure and I think, consequently, could have disastrous implications for our future force structure in this country.

QUESTIONER: Glenn Kessler with The Washington Post. Should the United States make a clear declaration that it has no interest in maintaining a long-term military presence in Iraq?

HAGEL: That would be my option. I think that point has to be made very clear to the people of the Middle East. I said in my statement -- and I'm not the only one who has come to this conclusion -- that America's leadership and purpose are distrusted. Our policies are distrusted. Our leadership is distrusted. And I don't believe that the right option for our future, for stability in the Middle East, or for our efforts in leading a fight -- a world fight, global fight against terrorism, is to put permanent bases in the Middle East. And I know that can be argued both ways. But it seems to me what that does, that just continues a proposition that insurgents are using -- and we know this from intelligence, and leaders, by the way, in the Middle East, that we are a great magnet. Our presence is a great magnet for Islamic extremism. And Carl Levin said it I think this weekend, and I think he's right. Islamic extremism is going to have to be dealt with by moderate Muslims as much as any other way to deal with this. Yes, we've got a military piece, we've got an intelligence piece, we've got all the other dynamics of our foreign policy that are in play. But this is not going to end until the Islamic world deals with this problem from within. That may take -- I don't know -- years and years and years. But I think we kid ourselves and we do a great disservice to our future generations if we come at it any other way. And I think not (sic) to make a clear statement of our intentions in the Middle East not to build up a large force structure there through bases, is very important.

HAASS: There's a lot of people. I'll get to as many as I can. Let me already note that I will disappoint many of them.

Arnaud De Borchgrave.

QUESTIONER: Arnaud De Borchgrave, CSIS. Senator, have you given any thought to perhaps asking some of our Arab friends to come into Iraq and replace U.S. fighting troops?

HAGEL: I have spoken to various regional partners on that basis. As you know, Arnaud, and others in this room, far better than I -- and I noted this in my speech -- the complexities here and the regional dynamics are very deep. And of course we have to be careful with that. And again, that goes back to my larger theme about where we need to start extricating ourselves -- the United States -- from the center of this and work around the outside as much as we can. And that question is a good example of that.

I have spoken directly to -- I don't want to mention the leaders because it would be unfair to the divulge a personal, private conversation -- but the leaders of a number of Middle Eastern countries about this. And there are some down sides to that, as you know. And there are some nuances that we have to be careful with. But that goes back to my bigger point of some mechanism, some regional mechanism where all the countries in that area could participate, not just based on a security dynamic, but the other two pillars of stability, future stability: economic and political. And if we can run those tracks -- and it's difficult, it's uncertain, uncontrollable -- in parallel, but it seems to me there's where we have to shift our policy.

And I know that doesn't exactly answer your question, but I think it's all woven into the same fabric, Arnaud.

HAASS: Can I just follow up on that, because you've put a lot of emphasis on this regional mechanism, almost the Iraqi parallel to the Afghan six-plus-two, which I agree -- I actually agree with you, I think it would be an interesting contribution.

And then you went on -- again, I hope I'm right here -- to say that you thought there was potentially out of a self-interest of Iran and Syria they would play a more responsible role than they've played up to date. Would you be willing, though, to add other things to the mix, to potentially add either, say, economic incentives or political incentives for them in order to also encourage them to play a more responsible role?

HAGEL: Yes. I think you must because, again, it's all part of the same dynamic, and as I just said, it's woven into the fabric. And I don't think you can have any of these pieces without the other pieces, and I would be -- I'd be very amenable to that, but I also said in my speech that this is the time for some very creative diplomatic thinking here. And I use the term agility. And what I'm concerned about as any one thing for the United States is that we not unintentionally isolate ourselves in the Middle East and the world, and I think that's happening to us in some ways because we have not reached out and built these kinds of coalitions and used the institutions that the great leaders of our world and our country founded after World War II. Scowcroft talks about it; Kissinger talks about it -- many others.

HAASS: The gentleman in the next to last row with the blue shirt. I can't see. I don't have glasses on. I apologize.

QUESTIONER: Gary Mitchell from --

HAASS: I forgot you. I'm sorry.

QUESTIONER: Gary Mitchell from The Mitchell Report. Senator, you said just a few minutes ago, in reference to being against the setting of timelines, that you wouldn't want to put the president in that position. And my question is, given that this is -- there seems to be general agreement about the conduct of the war beginning with the troop strength that we went in with, the way in which we managed the security situation afterwards, the way in which we've dealt with the insurgency, virtually every element of our conduct of this conflict -- why is it that in -- as we head towards 2006 -- that the test of the rightness or wrongness of a policy ought to be how and we -- where we are putting our president in a particular position? Aren't we above that now?

HAGEL: Thank you.

That was not my point nor the intent of what I said in the speech, as to -- or in my response to a question -- in not putting a president in that position. That frame of reference, for me, was -- because I don't think it's ever wise to take the commander in chief, the leader of a nation, and dictate through some arbitrary process -- even though the Congress has a constitutional responsibility to be a partner in this, which essentially we never were; that's more our fault probably than the president's, but we let that happen to ourselves. But I don't think it's wise policy. I think it's dangerous to do that.

Now, that said, let me go back to the amendment that was passed today, what was not stripped out of that amendment, and that is, accountable reports from the administration back to the Congress. Now, you can say, "Well, that's a report and big deal." But let me tell you what that has done. That's very significant, because that now starts to incorporate the Congress in the policy process of time frames on reports and involvement in process and policy -- what are you doing; why are you doing it; we want to hear more about it.

When you consider the last three years, Rumsfeld and Rice -- Powell before Rice -- over the last three years were up to explain in open hearings the administration's policy on Iraq and progress reports on Iraq maybe twice. I mean, Rice wasn't before our Foreign Relations Committee until last month. The last time she was before the Foreign Relations Committee was at her confirmation hearing in January.

So what this has done, not that it's the last word, but what this amendment has started to do -- in answer to your question here -- is inject the Congress in this process for the first time, and I think that's significant. As I said, I think it's long overdue. I think we have been absent in this debate. And when you think -- as your friend Leslie Gelb noted, it is the responsibility of Congress to declare war, to send our troops overseas and to appropriate funds to support those troops, and where have we been?

So that's the context of why I said what I did. I don't think it's in the interest of our country to put that kind of arbitrary timeline on the president. Levin's timeline might be different from mine.

And the fact is, the president and his team, under the Constitution, as well as the reality of commander in chief and implementing policy in this country, have that responsibility. And I don't think you want to abridge that. But what's been missing is the partnership.

HAASS: Speaking of timelines, do you have time for a few more?

HAGEL: Sure.

HAASS: Marvin Kalb?

QUESTIONER: Senator, your speech, which I thought was excellent, was crafted in very diplomatic, polite language. But it said a great deal. And I was wondering if I'm right that at its core it ends up being a rather stinging indictment of the administration's policy. (Scattered laughter.)

HAGEL: Well, you're a very crafty fellow, Mr. Kalb. (Laughter.) And I would say that I would let stand my speech and what I said.

QUESTIONER: (Laughs.)

HAGEL: You can take away from that speech any interpretation that you like. I thought I spoke rather plainly, actually.

And if you've flattered me with diplomatic terms, that's fine, but I'm not known, at least to the White House, as speaking diplomatically about Iraq. And I thought I spoke rather plainly about Iraq and how I feel about it and what I think we should do to move forward.

I've also said that I think we made almost every bad decision you could possibly make. That's my opinion. I've spoken rather clearly about that.

But I think what is important for our country and the world now is, understand, first, we are where we are. But we're not going to go back and -- historians will, and they should reflect on that. But what's important now is, how do we move forward, how do we get out of this without further destabilizing the Middle East and with hopefully enhancing the stability and security of the Middle East? That is what's before us today.

HAASS: I'm reassured that we have a guest here today who actually associates the word "diplomatic" with "flattery."

HAGEL: (Chuckles.)

HAASS: It's been a while since I encountered that.

Barbara Slavin, you've been patient.

QUESTIONER: Thank you. Thanks. Barbara Slavin of USA Today. If you could clarify -- you say you don't believe in "clear and hold." What should our troops be doing, limited as they are, in Iraq?

And on Syria, you caution against looking to overturn the regime. What do we do if, as it appears apparent, the Syrians continue to stonewall on the Hariri investigation? What kind of sanctions would you slap on them? And what could be the impact of that plan? Thanks.

HAGEL: Well, first of all, let me clear up a point. I did not say I don't support "clear and hold." That's not what was my answer. My answer was that I think it's difficult to implement that policy with a limited number of forces. It's not a matter -- I don't support it or I don't think it may be the best policy, but I don't know how you're going to do it with the kind of force structure you have that's meaningful. That's, I think -- hopefully addresses that.

On your question on Syria and elements of that question, I said -- and everyone in this room understands this very well -- this is a very unpredictable business. And you also, to further complicate this, are dealing with a great set of uncontrollables. We are limited.

Great powers succeed when they understand their limitations, and I'm not sure we have understood our limitations. And when you understand your limitations, you have thresholds and you have parameters within which you can exercise the inner circle of influence and the outer circles of influence. And I don't think we've played that very wisely and carefully and smartly.

Syria. I warned about anyone being too quick to see an Assad regime come unwound because something will replace that. As I warned in my speech on the Senate floor before I voted for the Iraqi resolution to empower the president to go to war, we better think through consequences because something is going to replace Saddam Hussein; something will replace whatever government is there. And anyone who thinks it couldn't get worse better go back and reread history, and especially in that part of the world. It can get worse. And in fact, you could probably argue it is worse in many ways -- the Middle East -- because of the consequences and the ripple effects.

So I'm not defending Mr. Assad nor his conduct nor his government. That isn't the point. We have structures -- the United Nations and other institutions that were built for these kinds of reasons, and we should work through those. That's why it's important the president's trip to Asia -- meeting with the leaders of China and India -- succeed. China is on the National (sic) Security Council. China is a very important --

HAASS: U.N. Security Council.

HAGEL: I'm sorry?

HAASS: U.N. Security Council.

HAGEL: I mean U.N. Security Council. A very important part of this. And it does fit -- all of this connects. And that's, I guess, the bigger point of my speech, not just regionalization, but globalization. And to think you're going to fix Iraq or Iran or North Korea without the entire global dynamic of relationships as institutions is complete folly, dangerous folly. So there are ways to deal with Syria, as difficult as they are, as unpredictable as they are.

HAASS: We've got time for a couple more.

Priscilla Clapp

QUESTIONER: Hi. I'm Priscilla Clapp, retired Foreign Service. This administration has operated on a set of pretty absolutist assumptions, I think; one of them being that they had a majority in the Congress and the Congress would be behind them in whatever they did. Other ones being things you pointed out today.

As the Congress has become more active now, particularly on the question of Iraq, but on the question of torture, do you get any sense in your discussions with the White House and the administration that they're willing to listen and to find ways of working with the Congress? Or are they going to resent what's happening and let that lead in their response? I know it's a difficult question. I didn't know how to phrase it.

HAGEL: No, I understand it. You phrased it exactly right. Force of events always dictate to a certain extent the outcome of any conflict, of any challenge, of any issue. And the force of events the last three years I think has set in motion some new thinking in the White House, some new interest in adjustment of policy. I mean, look at what we were just talking about here, some of the new defense policy. I mean, of course it's imperfect, the process.

So my short answer to your question is yes. But I would caveat it this way: I don't think all in the administration are accepting of that structure and change and adaptation. (Laughter.) I think some have. I give Secretary Rice very high marks for some of the things that's she's saying and doing, although many of those were Colin Powell's ideas. And I'm glad to see Colin Powell succeeding in absentia, but nonetheless, some of that is a Colin Powell structure and policy and dynamic. And I think it's rather clear that Colin Powell was always the odd man out and was always boxed out of a more diplomatic, skillful way to handle these things, and that the military wasn't always -- Powell said wasn't the answer.

I think the administration is shifting, and I think they have to shift. I think the reality has set in that they don't have any choice here, if for no other reason than we are grinding down our force structure to the point where we don't have any force structure. When you look at some of these numbers -- and I mentioned some of the facts here, not just the casualty numbers, the poll numbers, the question of whether the American people will sustain this policy in Iraq for any period of time -- all that plays into this great dynamic of what I mentioned, the force of events, the force of reality. And that's what we all deal with in life, and especially in foreign policy. It is the great uncertain realm and universe out there.

But I think we're doing great damage to our force structure. I think it's very dangerous what we're doing to our force structure. And I see some similarities to what we did -- had to do after Vietnam. And it was because great patriots like Schwarzkopf and Shinseki and Shalikashvili and Powell and McCaffrey and Tony Zinni and Joseph Hoar and others stayed in after two tours of Vietnam; said, by God, I'm going to make this the best Army and Marine Corps the world's ever seen. And they did. Took them 30 years. And I think what we're doing is we're spiraling that down again.

Not to get off on the force structure part, but I think if for no other reason than the administration is tending to look at some other areas, they cannot keep the force tempo up the way we've got it now. You cannot do what you're doing. You will ruin your force structure. You will drive it into the ground. And I think we're dangerously close to that -- aside from the diplomatic dynamics of what's happening.

I mean, you heard what the Saudi foreign minister said when he was in town a month and a half ago. Now he's backed off a little bit; I think he says things are getting a little better. But he used the word "disintegration," Iraq is disintegrating. That was his word. And I would tell you, in private conversations with other Arab leaders, they used the same term.

So the administration had to shift and had to reach beyond. And I think, again, not to overplay what happened on the Senate floor, not to give my body any great credit on this, but what happened today in the Senate was very significant. I think historians will look back on this day and will say this was a turning point -- which relates to your question and some other question here. Again, I don't give myself or any other member of the Senate any great credit for that, but some of us have been beating out there for three years and getting beat upon by my own party and by others on this, and eventually the force of reality will dictate. And that's the way it should be in a democracy.

HAASS: When you say it's a turning point, are you suggesting it's a turning point about congressional involvement in Iraq policy, or more broadly, that this is a turning in terms of the age-old contest between the executive branch and the legislative branch, or both? What do you say?

HAGEL: Both. And everything that extenuates from that. Your question about policy, shift in policy. Now the Senate has passed a resolution, sponsored by the Republican chairman of the Armed Services Committee, that dictates reports -- timeline reports on progress, policy, strategy be presented to the Congress. Now that, in my opinion, is significant.

HAASS: We have time for one more. Michael Krepon.

Again let me apologize to those we haven't gotten to. We've gone on for about an hour, and we try to keep things to that length.

QUESTIONER: Senator, you fought in a very punishing war, and the punishment was compounded by our decisive national debate after the war was over. And I'm wondering how we can avoid that this time around. Your speech today was markedly different than the president's yesterday in Alaska. And he's heading in a path, I think, that just compounds the divisiveness. Have you thought some more about steps we can take now to avoid compounded punishment after this war?

HAGEL: Well, I think your analysis is correct as one of the real dangerous consequences of all this. And I have said exactly what you've said. I've said it a number of times in speeches and interviews. And we are going to have to deal with that. And I don't know -- no one in this room can predict how this all comes out, where the world is a year from now, where we will be in all this. I don't know. But it's very clear that we are dividing this country over this. And I am sorry to see some of the statements.

Mr. Kalb's point about my delicate diplomatic verbiage; I would call his attention to what I said about this issue. I addressed this issue in my speech when I said it's not unpatriotic to question the policy of your government. Not to question the policy of your government is unpatriotic. I referenced Vietnam to your point -- 58,000 people died because no one questioned. And I said, if you recall in that speech, for the administration to somehow penalize or demonize those who question and criticize is not who we are, and the American people will not put up with that. That's not a great country. That's not a great democracy. That's not America. And there will be a consequence if the administration continues to do that. They can't do that. It's not who we are. As I said, on the other hand, the Democrats would be wise to -- as Senator Levin did today -- he presented a very responsible resolution. And it was because of that responsible resolution that Senator Warner crafted his resolution. That's the way we should do this.

And I made a comment to some senior administration officials three years ago before we invaded Iraq, and I said -- when there was great debate, many of you remember, whether the president needed a resolution from Congress to go into Iraq. If you remember the first cut of that, the White House lawyers said you didn't. White House lawyers will always get you in trouble. (Soft laughter.) But if you recall, the White House lawyers said we don't need a resolution. And there were other very senior members of the administration -- some of you know personally -- that said absolutely, the lawyers are right. The president is commander in chief, and he'll commit our troops.

And I remember saying to some senior -- very senior members of this administration, why in the world would a president want to take a nation to war alone? Why in the world wouldn't a president want the Congress with him? It's going to get pretty lonely. Easy to get into war, not very easy to get out of a war. And the consequences that will follow -- surely follow -- even best-case scenarios -- even the Wolfowitz theory of how this was all going to go -- which didn't go anywhere near that, but nonetheless -- you're going to need some help, and it's going to get pretty lonely and it's going to get dangerous. So you want the Congress in the boat with you. And they haven't done that. Now, we're going to start forcing him to do that.

But we in the Congress also should be assigned some blame here. We let this all unfold right in front of our eyes with very little questioning, very little oversight. And I think it was -- I think it was a straight up-or-down Republican deal. And I'm a Republican. If Mr. Clinton would have been president, I suspect we would have been a little more interested in oversight hearings. (Laughter.) And I don't let the Democrats off. I'm not so sure if the Democrats would have been in charge and if Clinton was the president, you might not have exactly the same thing.

HAASS: When I introduced the senator, I used a string of adjectives, and I think I left out a few. I think I left out the decency, the honesty and, indeed, the wisdom.

Senator Hagel, thanks very much.

HAGEL: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. (Applause.) Thank, Richard, for having me. I appreciate it very much. Thank you.

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