A Cautious Man
November 16, 2005
Armchair Warriors Often Fail
Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska (decorated Viet Nam veteran) once again is showing that not all Republicans are completely in the tank for the Administration and its war policy. He gave quite the speech yesterday at the Council on Foreign Relations. While most people may focus on his direct rebuttal, of the President’s attempt to insulate himself from criticism about Iraq, Senator Hagel also had some interesting things to say about the issue of a President’s war powers, and about who should decide to send troops into a war.

But first, the pointed reply to the theme of the “It’s Not My Fault Tour” -
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 from both parties. The Bush Administration must understand that each American has a right to question our policies in Iraq and should not be demonized 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, 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.
Senator Hagel continues, later in the speech, to address the issue of Congress’ “Constitutional responsibilities over matters of war” -
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 8 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,

"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."

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.
I think that’s powerful stuff. One of the issues the Iraq conflict has raised is, once again, that of the power to make war, and to decide to go to war. If a President were to have the same point of view as Senator Hagel, there could be a serious, and overdue, examination of a President’s assertion to unilaterally initiate a war.

One more thing, just to flash back, Senator Hagel also seemed to be one of the few Republicans who was talking sense on the eve of the Iraq invasion, back in February of 2003 -
Today, America stands nearly alone in proclaiming the urgency of the use of force to disarm Saddam Hussein. In Europe and in many corners of the globe, America is perceived as determined to use force in Iraq to the exclusion of world opinion or the interests of our allies, even those allies who share our concerns about Saddam Hussein's weapons programs. America must balance its determination with patience and not be seen as in a rush to war. As David Ignatius wrote in a recent Washington Post column, "A nation heading into war needs prudence and good judgment. America's best generals, people such as Grant and Marshall and Eisenhower, were at once cautious and decisive. Their greatness lay in the fact that they never lost sight of the long-term interests of the United States."

America must steer away from actions that could produce the unintended results of fracturing those very institutions that have helped keep peace since World War II. Allowing a rush to war in Iraq to create divisions in those institutions and alliances that will help sustain American security and world stability is a short-sighted and dangerous course of action.

We should put aside the mistaken delusion that democracy is just around the corner. Or that by force of arms we can remove Saddam and simultaneously place Iraq on the path to democracy by overlaying a blueprint for democracy on the region ... a so-called "Democratic Domino Effect." The spade work of building a free Iraq will take time. General Anthony Zinni, special adviser to the Secretary of State and former Commanding General, U.S. Central Command, reminded the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week that, with regard to Iraq, "there will not be a spontaneous democracy so the reconstruction of the country will be a long, hard course regardless of whether a modest vision of the end state is sought or a more ambitious one is chosen." The end of Saddam Hussein's regime will be all to the good, but building nations and democracy in the Middle East or anywhere is complicated and difficult, and success is never assured. We can try to help create the conditions for democratic change. But we must assume that it will not come quickly or easily.
I think we’ve forgotten that there was bipartisan unease with the President’s eagerness to initiate an invasion. “Everybody” may have been worried about Saddam Hussein, but not “everybody” felt that an immediate invasion was necessarily the right cure.

And that’s the point of the criticism, of how America got into this war.



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