Dark Horse Hagel

Amid a smokescreen of flip-flops and partisan pandering, Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel sits quietly in the backdrop, sticking to his guns, unafraid of how staunch Iraq War advocates in his divisive party might label him. Meanwhile, the GOP frontrunners, comprised of three conservatives who “values voters” regard as dubious, scramble to appease their unwavering base, for fear of not ascertaining their cherished and necessary vote.

Hagel knows better. Hagel knows that the American electorate is fed up with sloganeering wordsmiths who change moral postures as often as shirts. What Hagel fails to realize, apparently, given the bizarre position he took in a non-declarative press conference on March 12, is that if he enters the 2008 presidential race on the Republican ticket, he could actually win.

The American people desperately yearn for change; they made that emphatically clear in the 2006 midterm elections. For too long, they avow, duplicitous politicians have made careers out of spin and hype, all at the taxpayer’s expense. Granted, the GOP, in all its infinite wisdom, is mostly to blame, for they attained far too much clout over the last decade, exploited it, and devolved into a faction of hypocrites dominated by special interests and evangelicals, discarding the pseudo-libertarian values that were the GOP’s hallmark in decades past.

Enter Hagel: a low-tax, small government, independent entrepreneur and an outspoken Iraq War critic. Whatever the proper course of action is in Iraq, from surging troops to precipitous withdrawal, the Republican Party has become so consumed by partisan politics, so worried about upsetting its electorate, that it will not even agree to debate nonbinding resolutions on the issue. It is disgraceful, yes, that the people who so vigorously championed the war in the past will not even allow dialogue to ensue regarding the war’s future. Hagel is one of a small delegate of Republicans who are disgusted with their party’s deceitful tactics. On January 27, 2007, in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Hagel vented his distaste, avowing:

“I think all one hundred Senators should be on the line on this. What do you believe? What are you willing to support?...If you wanted a safe job, go sell shoes. This is a tough business. But is it any tougher, us having to take a tough vote, express ourselves, and have the courage to step up, and what we’re asking our young men and women to do? I don’t think so. When I hear, on both sides of this argument…not only is it offensive and disgusting but it debases the whole system of our country and who we are. My goodness, can’t we debate the most critical issue of our time, out-front, in front of the American people…Are we to be so weak we can’t do that? I don’t think so.”

This sort of impassioned truthfulness is what the Republican Party currently lacks. Take Arizona Senator John McCain. Though his steadfast support of the Iraq War amid political upheaval is laudable, McCain has been nothing short of dubious regarding social policy. During the 2000 presidential race, McCain called evangelical leader Jerry Falwell and others “agents of intolerance” and “corrupting influences.” This radical position portrayed McCain as a maverick who would not pander to the religious right. More recently, however, in the onset of the 2008 race, McCain has retreated back to the conservative base, working feverishly to amend broken ties with the religious community.

But it is not just McCain. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, whose morals have been questioned by evangelical leaders, are now reinventing their image to garner the religious constituency. Liberal activists have accused Romney of flip-flopping on gay marriage and other social issues and Giuliani was recorded on video in 1989 expressing his pro-choice abortion stance.

Conversely, Hagel has never had any qualms with the religious right. Cynics might surmise that Hagel too is playing party politics. That is a severely misguided notion. Although a vehement social conservative, Hagel is neither a theocrat nor a “born-again” Christian looking to score political points in the Bible Belt. By all accounts, Hagel has consistently voted conservative throughout his political career, unlike the aforementioned candidates, who pontificate social conservatism only when faced with the prospects of having to appeal to a religious congregation.

The Republican field, for the first time in years, is littered with social moderates. Not only that, but these social moderates are also the frontrunners. It is unclear whether or not the religious right is sold on the McCain-Giuliani-Romney reincarnation, but it is obvious that they would much prefer an incontrovertible devotee over three ATM (at the minute) followers. Again, enter Hagel. Given his immaculate history with the evangelical community, the Nebraska Senator would have no problem stealing prized votes from the three wannabes.

But the true brilliance of Hagel’s presidential prospects reside not in his unabashed patronage to the values espoused by the religious right, but rather, the perfect storm he has created by taking a hard-line against the Iraq War. Historically, “values voters” are far less concerned with foreign policy than social policy. Therefore, Hagel’s candid criticism of the war will not resonate negatively among “values voters.”

But it does not end there. An anti-Iraq War coalition is bubbling within the GOP, and although it does not yet outweigh the Iraq War advocates, it is surely gaining momentum, while the rest of the party is stagnant. Hagel would indisputably carry the religious vote if he ran, but he would also have the support of disillusioned Republicans, a powerful combination that could secure him the Republican ticket.

After riding the religious vote through the primaries, Hagel would have to appeal to a much broader base. It seems clear that the political climate will not allow a staunch Iraq War advocate to attain the presidency, implying that a Republican cannot win. Hagel, however, strikes the perfect balance between social morals and anti-Bush foreign policy. In a 2006 Gallup poll, 57 percent of Americans regarded religion as “very important” aspects of their lives, while only 16 percent said religion was “not very important.” In another Gallup poll, dated March 2007, 58 percent of Americans favored withdrawal of U.S. combat forces from Iraq within one year over indefinite military presence and a troop surge.

As aforementioned, over half of the population agrees with Hagel regarding social and foreign policy. It is this potent combination of faith, which Americans cherish, and staunch Iraq opposition, which Americans also espouse, that will set Hagel apart from rival Democrats in the general election and could prove to be the difference between Democratic and Republican occupation of the White House in 2008.

It is disheartening to see that Hagel is not diving headlong into the presidential pool, but it is at least encouraging to realize that if he does decide to run, he has a realistic chance of becoming the god-sent savior of a Republican Party reeling for a messiah.

Posted by Alex Fitzsimmons at March 18, 2007 1:29 PM
Comment #212595


Due to schedule complications, I will probably not be able to respond to your comments. However, your thoughts and criticisms are still greatly appreciated.

Posted by: Alex Fitzsimmons at March 18, 2007 1:34 PM
Comment #212600

I don’t know much about Hagel but he couldn’t be any worse that what’s out there. But if he’s half of what ya say, he just could be a force to reckon with.

Posted by: Ron Brown at March 18, 2007 2:04 PM
Comment #212602

Good point about Hagel. On domestic and traditional conservative issues, he is well positioned to do succeed in Republican primaries against Guiliani & Romney, but would have difficulty overcoming the institutional backing owned by McCain.

He will succeed or fail based upon his stand on Iraq.

There is an astounding statistic hidden inside a poll conducted by the British firm, Opinion Research Bureau. Conservative outlets such as The London Times & Fox News are spinning the results as proof that Iraqis are optimistic, and that the surge is working. But there is a powerful piece of information which could be huge for Hagel:

According to this poll of just over 5,000 Iraqis, taken last month, 35% have a family member who has left the country, and it has been widely reported that there are roughly one million Iraqi refugees. According to the ORB poll, 26% of the Iraqis have had a family member murdered.

What this suggests is that the Lancet estimates are correct. Roughly 600,000 Iraqis have died violent deaths as a result of the US invasion.

If Americans come to realize the estimates being used by the Brookings Institute and others rely only upon media reports, and that violent deaths are not in the tens of thousands, but hundreds of thousands, that what Americans are being led to believe is off by an order of magnitude, Republicans will turn against the war in larger numbers.

Alone among potential Republican candidates, Hagel is positioned to benefit from the horrible realization of just how bad Iraq really is.

Posted by: phx8 at March 18, 2007 2:31 PM
Comment #212604

Nice piece. What the Reps have been lacking for some time is realism. Our loss in Iraq was caused directly by ideaological strategies rather than realistic strategies.I must confess I expected Hagel to be attacked as unpatriotic etc.like Murtha and Kerry when I first saw the title of your piece.
A presidential candidate from both major parties that seeks an early withdrawel from Iraq is the best possible scenario. Fair warning. During the Vietnam conflict both parties also had candidates that claimed to seek a troop withdrawel. Nixon with his “piece with honor” approach won over McGovern by a landslide. More troops died and more treasure was wasted than before the election and the the end result was substantially the same as though Mc Govern had won and we had withdrawn earlier. It does not matter if one supported that war or not,a loss is a loss. The less painful the better.Realism.

Posted by: BillS at March 18, 2007 3:00 PM
Comment #212606

I admire Mr. Hagel, but I’m afraid the Republican party might implode if he runs.

Posted by: Thomas at March 18, 2007 3:10 PM
Comment #212608

Hagel has absolutely no shot whatsoever of winning the primary, but if you’re interested in an alternative to McCain, Guliani or Romney, the real buzz these days is around Fred Thompson.

Phx8, Republicans turning against the war has nothing to do those Brookings Insitute numbers, and those like myself who have been against the conduct of the Iraq war flat out reject that 600,000 Iraqis have “died violent deaths as a result of the US invasion.”

Even if you accept that number, the vast majority of those deaths are not the result of US actions at all but the actions of those we’re fighting. In fact, the higher the number, the more reason we ought to be fighing those responsible.

What you’re doing is like blaming the Allies in WWII for killing 6 million Jews.

Posted by: Loyal Opposition at March 18, 2007 3:44 PM
Comment #212612


Actually, that poll does not confirm Lancet’s numbers.

Family member means a bit more to Iraqi’s than it does to us. We consider “family” as mother, father, sister, brother, grandmother, granfather. To Iraqis, “family” also includes cousins…and even, in some cases, “tribe” members.

Also, there’s something you’ve left out. The major revelation of that poll of 5,000 Iraqis.

Most (I believe 58%) believe they are better off today. They believe things are better.

Why did you leave that fact out of your post?

Posted by: Jim T at March 18, 2007 4:25 PM
Comment #212613

Is there anyone here who is serving or considering signing up to serve in Afghanistan, Iraq, or elsewhere? If so, what are your thoughts on Hagel and what makes him different from Murtha?

Posted by: Thomas at March 18, 2007 4:41 PM
Comment #212620

Jim T & Loyal O,
A reputable pollster would not interview multiple members of just one family, or even one extended family. However, respondents may think of their family as much more extended than an American might think.


The charts are linked below, and much easier to read:

http://www.opinion.co.uk/Documents/Charts.ppt#573,7,Slide 7

The ORB pollsters undoubtedly ran into the same problems as the Lancet people. There are areas where it is simply too dangerous to ask questions. The Lancet poll addressed this by selecting demographically similar, safer places. Assuming the ORB pollsters did the same, how accurate can their information be if pollsters cannot enter the most dangerous zones?

There are lots of seemingly contradictory answers. Anyway, here are two highlights:

“One in four (26%) Iraqi adults have had a family relative murdered in the last three years, while 23% of those living in Baghdad have had a family/relative kidnapped in the last three years.”

“Regionally there are significant differences on attitudes towards the relationship between the security situation and the presence of troops. Nationally, one in two (53%) feels that the security situation in Iraq will get better in the immediate weeks following a withdrawal of Multi National Forces.”

Posted by: phx8 at March 18, 2007 6:09 PM
Comment #212622

It says something VERY LOUDLY when you know that approx. 100,000 Iraqis are leaving their country each and every month…they are mostly going to neighboring countries…that will eventually cause great unrest (which will no doubt require more U.S. intervention).

In addition, 21,000 Iraqi refugees have settled in Sweden, not a “coalition” member and only 7,000 Iraq refugees have been allowed to come to the U.S. who fomented the war which caused the refugees to flee…

Yup…it speaks VERY LOUDLY.

Posted by: Rachel at March 18, 2007 6:24 PM
Comment #212629

“The United Nations estimates 700,000 Iraqis have fled to Jordan — more than one-tenth the entire kingdom’s population. As many as 1 million more Iraqis are estimated to have sought refuge in Syria, about 120,000 are in Egypt and 40,000 in Lebanon, according to the United Nations.”

According to the ORB poll, 35% of the Iraqi respondents have a family member who have left the country in the past three years.

Iraqis are currently fleeing the country at the rate of 3,000/day, or a little under 100,000/month, it would be safe to say about one million have fled during the past three years.

Using this information, and the ORB response that 26% had a family member murdered, then the Lancet numbers start to look pretty good, with at least 600,000 iraqis dying violently since the US invasion.

We invaded, and as the occupying power, we had a legal obligation to provide security. Remember how we routinely condemn Saddam Hussein for the deaths of 300,000 in the Shia uprising the Iraqi government after the First Gulf War, and 100,000 Kurds in the uprising against the Iraqi government in the late 80s? We invaded. We removed Saddam Hussein, and the resulting civil war killed at least 600,000 Iraqis, with up to two million fleeing for their lives.

Posted by: phx8 at March 18, 2007 7:31 PM
Comment #212641

You seem to forget Sam Brownback and Mike Huckabee. Both of these guys are fervent social conservatives who don’t “flip flop” at all. Don’t really know about Huckabee’s position on Iraq, but Brownback is definately no supporter of Bush’s troop increase.
Anyway in the end the truth is that the party of Lincoln, Goldwater, and Reagan has become a sprawling mess.

Posted by: greenstuff at March 18, 2007 10:00 PM
Comment #212642

Alex said: “Granted, the GOP, in all its infinite wisdom, is mostly to blame, for they attained far too much clout over the last decade, exploited it, and devolved into a faction of hypocrites dominated by special interests and evangelicals, discarding the pseudo-libertarian values that were the GOP’s hallmark in decades past.”

In an era of extreme partisanship where often no one will speak ill of there own it is nice too see a piece of brutal honesty as such.

Also I hardly ever read anything in the right column, and I liked this piece Alex.

Posted by: Richard Rhodes at March 18, 2007 10:19 PM
Comment #212650

Brownbeck has the credentials, and he is a principled man, much as I may disagree with his principles. He might do well in some southern & midwestern primaries. However, he strikes me as a Republican version of Walter Mondale, a man I deeply respect. Brownbeck lacks charisma, he is not telegenic or inspiring, and he would get creamed in a national election.

Hagel has similar credentials, and he is a little more telegenic, but what sets Hagel apart from the Republican field is his stand on Iraq. That one issue could carry him. Even if the current escalation- er, I mean, surge- somehow pacified Iraq, there is simply no chance that it will make much difference in Anbar or Diyala. The fundamental polical problem dividing Sunnis and Shias would remain, which means Iraq will probably look about the same next year as it looks today, at least outside of Baghdad. The lack of a banking system, 50% inflation, corruption, a country awash in small arms, and other issues such as Kirkuk will take years and years to resolve, regardless of whether the US is in country or not. And that is if it goes well.

Stepping back for a moment: in purely political terms, in terms disregarding principles and moral stands, Iraq will sink the Republicans if they choose to stay the course into the coming election. If the US occupation is brought to a close before the election, it will have to be brought about by Republicans. As conservative columnist David Brooks put it, the men in the grey suits will pay a visit to President Bush, and they will tell him that Bush will not be allowed to sink the party, and must go along with a withdrawal.

Hagel is uniquely positioned to take advantage of this issue.

Posted by: phx8 at March 18, 2007 11:39 PM
Comment #212657

Ordinarily, with regard to Republican candidates running for president, in this cycle or any other, one is forced to pick the best of a bad lot. I can say, as a left leaning Democrat who probably disagrees with Hagel on many social issues, he is good, very, very good. If he were to get the nomination I would have to sit up and take him seriously, He is the most serious, no b.s. person I have seen in the political arena in a long, long time.

Posted by: charles Ross at March 19, 2007 1:02 AM
Comment #212702

Very good article Alex. As a dem it is hard not to sit up and take notice of a republican legislator with the balls to stand up to and not march in lock step as is demanded by the right wing bosses. This may very well be a man voters of all political persuasion can give serious consideration.

Posted by: ILdem at March 19, 2007 1:36 PM
Comment #212705

With 24% of Republicans now opposed to continuing our involvement in Iraq’s Civil War, (up from 7%), Hagel is biding his time, no doubt. If the surge fails to halt the deaths and our billions being spent each month by Fall, Hagel surely will ride Iraq’s coattails toward his own rising poll numbers.

Posted by: David R. Remer at March 19, 2007 1:53 PM
Comment #212744


With 24% of Republicans now opposed to continuing our involvement in Iraq’s Civil War, (up from 7%), Hagel is biding his time, no doubt. If the surge fails to halt the deaths and our billions being spent each month by Fall, Hagel surely will ride Iraq’s coattails toward his own rising poll numbers.

Sounds like Hagel might be a rarity. A politican with a brain.

Posted by: Ron Brown at March 19, 2007 5:42 PM
Comment #213211

I assume there is no one serving or thinking of serving on this stream. Shame on the proponents of war who don’t consider serving their country in a time of prolonged war. Murtha, Hagel, Kerry, and McCain (among others) are true patriots. George W. Bush and Cheney (five deferments) are not.

Posted by: Thomas at March 22, 2007 1:02 PM
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