So, Senator Hagel (R-Nebraska), on ABC This Week, August 21, uttered the “V” word, if somewhat obliquely:
We’re past that stage [where more troops, as Hagel advocated back in 2003, would helpâ€“Ed] now because now we are locked into a bogged-down problem not unsimilar, dissimilar to where we were in Vietnam. The longer we stay, the more problems we’re going to have. [Emphasis added.]
He also said, “We should start figuring out how we get out of there.” Now that is not quite uttering the “E” word, or rather phrase (exit strategy), but that is what he is saying, noting further that “we’re not winning.”
This is quite a turn from April, 2004, when Hagel, worried about the military being stretched thin, said:
Where’s that manpower going to come from? What about a draft? What about mandatory national service in some way? [Source: Omaha World-Herlad, April 22, 2004, pg. 6a, via Lexis Nexus]
Well, these statements are consistent in one way: They both recognize that the war cannot be won with the size of force that the administration committed. But the proposed solution certainly has changed, and I think we can chalk it up to Hagel’s having been more realistic than his party’s executive officials all along regarding Iraq. Now that realism has led him to the conclusion that things are getting more Vietnam-like the longer we go without an exit strategy.
Further, Hagel’s change of heart on what to do about the Iraq situation is rather revealing in that he is widely viewed as a presidential contender in 2008. I would suggest that 38 months out is a bit early to be positioning oneself for the general election, so Hagel must have concluded that being on record as the first major Republican contender to be in favor of an exit strategy won’t be harmful in the primaries. Interesting.
But Hagel did not actually articualte what that exit strategy might look like. So, what might it look like. Would Sen. Hagel like to sign on to Tom Hayden’s plan for an exit strategy, elements of which include:
-the US government must declare it has no interest in permanent military bases or controlling Iraqi oil or other resources.
Yes, that would be a good place to start. It is especially timely to debate this, given Army Chief of Staff General Peter Schoomaker’s comment, also on August 21, that the US might have to keep 100,000 troops in Iraq for four years.
The issue of bases is hardly new or unimportant. The Manchester Guardian reported January 29 that GlobalSecurity.org’s director, John Pike, said there were already then about 12 US military bases under construction. Such reports only diminish the credibility of any official US claims that the US does not intend to retain a long-term military presence.
This was raised in the first presidential debate last September, when Democratic nominee John Kerry (remember him? rumor has it he still is one of Hagel’s colleagues) said:
I think a critical component of success in Iraq is being able to convince the Iraqis and the Arab world that the United States doesn’t have long-term designs on it. As I understand it, we’re building some 14 military bases there now, and some people say they’ve got a rather permanent concept to them. When you guard the oil ministry, but you don’t guard the nuclear facilities, the message to a lot of people is maybe, “Wow, maybe they’re interested in our oil.” [...] I will make a flat statement: The United States of America has no long-term designs on staying in Iraq. [My emphasisâ€“Ed.]
Bush’s response was to talk about how brave then-PM Allawi was. No further mention of bases in Iraq came up, so we can infer that Bush did not accept Kerry’s “flat statement.” (We can also infer that the “debate” was not actually meant to be an opportunity to debate one of the most crucial questions of the election, but I digress.)
But what about Hagel? He clearly does not favor a strategy of maintaining the large presence General Schoomaker refers to–branding it “complete folly” during his This Week appearanceâ€”but it would be good to know where he stands on the more general question of long-term basing, because as the above-referenced John Pike noted about the Iraqi military:
How many fighter jets does the new Iraqi army have? None. How many tanks? None.
So, are long-term bases now inevitable? And if that is US policy, does it not further fuel the insurgency? Seems like something we ought to be debating.
Senator Hagel and others now raising their voices against the “bogged down” military operation in Iraq would do us all a service if they began to spell out their exit strategy, whether it looks more like Tom Hayden’s model or whether it involves continued bases and assumes continued dependency of the Iraqi military on the US even after a withdrawal of most ground forces.