Senators Chuck Hagel (R-RI) and Jack Reed (D-NH) just acquitted themselves very well on Tim Russert’s Meet the Press.
Hagel made an articulate, compelling call for a new American comprehensive strategy in the Middle East that includes robust diplomacy, coordination with moderate Sunni regimes in the Middle East and new forms of economic engagement.
Hagel said that the White House keeps focusing on a “military approach” to Iraq. But he stated quite firmly, “the US military will not determine the future of Iraq.”
Reed was impressive too — until he began to focus on his and Hagel’s early call for increasing the overall size of the US army. He probably meant “military forces in total” rather than just the “army”. Hagel said nothing about this, but Reid made it sound like the key to solving the problem of an over-extended military apparatus is just making it larger.
I think — and I believe that Hagel believes at some level — that the first step in solving the “military over-reach” problem is getting better management and figuring out why despite more dollars and resources being thrown at the Pentagon that perceived “security deliverables” are declining.
Hagel said that he would make a statement about his intentions to run for the presidency or not in a few weeks. He reminded listeners that despite Vice President Cheney’s recent criticism of Hagel that Congressionaly Quarterly found in a recent survey of 30 key votes that Hagel votes with the Bush administration more than any other U.S. Senator.
Hagel is a classic conservative — but apparently not the kind of Republican that Dick Cheney likes.
Cheney recently stated:
Let’s say I believe firmly in Ronald Reagan’s 11th commandment: Thou shalt not speak ill of a fellow Republican. But it’s very hard sometimes to adhere to that where Chuck Hagel is involved.”
This opposition by Cheney is exactly what makes Hagel such an interesting proposition in a Republican primary presidential race. He might take the Republican party to a “sensible conservatism.” That could be healthy for the Republican Party, for both parties actually — and for the nation as a whole.
Hagel says he has not made up his mind on running. Some indicators though are bubbling forth, and this writer has been privy to some informed gossip.
First, Hagel has a book deal underway to get his thoughts on America’s future out during the 2008 primary season.
Second, Hagel has told a number of people close to him that if he does run for the presidency, that he won’t keep his Senate seat. He reportedly does not want to be in John Kerry’s position. That makes sense to me.
There have been some rumors — strong rumors — that Hagel was on the verge of quitting the Senate and not running for the presidency. That seems to be curbed somewhat — both after a call by many in the grassroots asking that Hagel not quit the Senate and also because he has seen the value and felt national support for standing strong in his opposition to the Iraq troop surge.
But the biggest thing that has happened is that Hagel had decided not to run previously because he thought that he and John McCain occupied the same political space. That is no longer true — and his profile is rather unique on the Republican side. His Sandhills PAC is also clearly picking up steam and is reaching out.
My hunch is that Hagel will announce an exploratory committee in a few weeks. Could be wrong — I don’t know anything from the deep inside about what Hagel is really likely to do. But I think he will announce this exploratory committee step in such a way that he is not making a full-fledged commitment to running.
Others tell me that Hagel is waiting for the American public to sour on those first out of the gate. He feels that it would be a mistake to be chasing favor this quickly in a presidential race, when there is all sorts of opportunity for frontrunners to stumble and go stale.
One downside of this strategy is that it reinforces in the minds of some that Hagel is not serious or does not at the end of the day have the appetite for the kinds of things he’d have to do to to get moved into the White House. One top tier national security voice of Republican ilk told me the other day that he wishes “Hagel would just make up his mind.” This former government icon said “I like Chuck Hagel, a lot. I am not sure that Chuck Hagel really wants it bad enough and that he will do what it takes to win. But if he does and he’s solid and committed to that decision, it would be healthy for the country.”
Another top tier national security voice — of Democratic ilk — wrote this to me recently regarding a meeting with Senator Hagel that he knew I would be attending:
. . .Give my best to Chuck — I hope he runs. . . You can tell him that.
Hagel is clearly cautious and is taking his time to make up his mind on this important investment of time and political capital. Mitt Romney may be a big challenge to him, but the two have very different takes on the war and on what it takes to get America’s national security portfolio back in shape.
Frankly, I think his entry into the race could be helpful as far as serious discussions of America’s foreign policy missteps — as I believe that his national security and foreign policy views are exactly what any successful Republican or Democrat candidate should be expressing. No one on the Democratic side has really stolen his brand of sensible, enlightened realism in foreign policy.
That gives Hagel a chance to continue to own the space he is in. But when he enters, watch quite a few of the Dems and Republicans try to begin mimicking him. Nothing wrong in that.
– Steve Clemons