Monday, June 27, 2005

Hagel: Iraq Worse Than Vietnam

From the Omaha World-Herald (Via Daily Kos):

Hagel sounds alarm over Iraq


GRAND ISLAND, Neb. - More than 200 Nebraska American Legion members, who have seen war and conflict themselves, fell quiet here Saturday as Sen. Chuck Hagel bluntly explained why he believes that the United States is losing the war in Iraq.

Sen. Chuck Hagel addresses more than 200 Nebraska American Legion members in Grand Island on Saturday.

It took 20 minutes, but it boiled down to this:

The Bush team sent in too few troops to fight the war leading to today's chaos and rising deaths of Americans and Iraqis. Terrorists are "pouring in" to Iraq.

Basic living standards are worse than a year ago in Iraq. Civil war is perilously close to erupting there. Allies aren't helping much. The American public is losing its trust in President Bush's handling of the conflict.

And Hagel's deep fear is that it will all plunge into another Vietnam debacle, prompting Congress to force another abrupt pullout as it did in 1975.

"What we don't want to happen is for this to end up another Vietnam," Hagel told the legionnaires, "because the consequences would be catastrophic."

It would be far worse than Vietnam, says Hagel, a twice-wounded veteran of that conflict, which killed 58,000 Americans.

Failure in Iraq could lead to many more American deaths, disrupt U.S. oil supplies, damage the Middle East peace effort, spread terrorism and harm America's stature worldwide, Hagel said.

That's what keeps him on edge these days.

That's why he is again the most outspoken Republican in Congress about Iraq. His view that America is losing in Iraq, which first aired in a newsmagazine last week, prompted rebukes from conservatives such as talk show host Rush Limbaugh, concerns from others in his party and praise from anti-war advocates on the Internet.

But Saturday, he was unrepentant.

"The point is, we're going to have to make some changes or we will lose, we will lose in Iraq," he told the legionnaires.

At the same time, he said, he wants President Bush to win, and he believes that the United States cannot pull out anytime soon.

The legionnaires gave him a standing ovation at the end of his speech. Carl Marks of Omaha, a Korean War veteran, said: "It sounds like he's conflicted . . . like a lot of us."

Bennie Navratil of Hallam, Neb., whose son left last week for military duty in Afghanistan, said, "I feel he said the right thing: that we can't pull out and something's got to change."

Aboard a plane back to Omaha, Hagel was asked whether he thought Bush was aware that adjustments might be needed in his Iraq policy.

"I don't know," Hagel said.

The whole Iraqi situation makes him sick to his stomach, he said.

"It has tormented me, torn me more than any one thing," he said with a grim look on his face. "To see what these guys in Iraq are having to go through and knowing what I know here: that we didn't prepare for it, we didn't understand what we were getting into. And to put those guys in those positions, it makes me so angry."

He lays part of the blame on Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who argued before the war that he needed only 150,000 American troops in Iraq. That caused more casualties than were needed, Hagel said.

"We still don't have enough troops," he said. "We should have had double or triple the number."

It has led to a bleak situation, Hagel said:

Insurgent attacks are more frequent than a year ago. Bombs used by insurgents are growing more deadly, piercing America's best protective clothing and equipment. Oil production is down. Electricity is less available than a year ago. Economic development is lagging. Ninety percent of the humanitarian and economic aid pledged by 60 nations hasn't reached Iraq because of the continuing violence. Only one Middle Eastern country has an ambassador in Iraq.

Bush has said America is fighting in Iraq with a "coalition of the willing," allies who have committed a relatively small number of troops and aid.

Hagel scoffed at that idea. "It's a joke to say there's a coalition of the willing," he said, adding that many are pulling out and the United States is fronting the bills for those who remain.

Meanwhile, U.S. troops are under severe strain. Troops are stationed in more than 100 countries, and their rapid tempo of deployments with little time off leaves them fatigued and in danger of making mistakes.

"We are destroying the finest military in the history of mankind, and the (National) Guard, too," he said. "We're stretching our Army to the breaking point."

Public pronouncements from the Bush administration also have gotten under Hagel's skin. Vice President Dick Cheney's recent comments that the insurgents in Iraq are in "the last throes" echo a refrain of the Vietnam era, he said.

Back then, officials saw "the light at the end of the tunnel" in Vietnam, Hagel said.

Toting up all those points, he said, leads him to conclude that the United States is losing in Iraq.

"That doesn't mean we have to lose," he said.

In his speech and in an interview, Hagel offered some ideas that he thinks could help in Iraq:

U.S. troops and others could work harder to train local militias in small Iraqi towns to help identify and take on insurgents. Allies who don't want to enter Iraq could help patrol its borders, blocking terrorists from entering the war-torn country. The training of Iraq's military and military police should be accelerated immediately.

Middle Eastern nations should become more engaged, he said, but it doesn't help when administration officials criticize Egypt and Saudi Arabia for not moving quickly enough toward democratic practices.

Hagel said he shaped his views after many talks recently with senior U.S. military officials; foreign policy experts; Brent Scowcroft, who was the first President Bush's national security adviser; and others. He plans to share his views with the current president and his team and says he feels an urgency he hopes they will share.

The United States has only about six more months to begin to turn things around in Iraq, he said.

"I believe that there can be a good outcome in Iraq," he said. "I also believe there could be a very bad outcome for Iraq. I believe we have a very limited time for that good outcome."

Hagel has been pretty upfront about the state of the Iraq War from the beginning. He, like Senator John McCain, has been willing to criticize the mistakes that have been made in the war, from the amount of troops used to the lack of armor for the humvees. But McCain and Hagel never, ever blame the preznit for these mistakes. It's always Rumsfeld or the Pentagon who has made the mistakes. Or Hagel/McCain say "We have made some mistakes," making it sound like the mistakes were made by a collective amount of Americans.

But the mistakes were made by George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and Karl Rove (who many people think makes all of the decisions in the administration.) Sure, Rumsfeld refused to send more troops, but the preznit could have rectified that problem by ordering Rummy to increase troop levels (especially in the chaotic aftermath of the fall of Saddam when Iraqi weapons dumps were stripped bare of weapons that are now killing Americans and Iraqi civilians.) But the preznit didn't rectify Rumsfeld's mistake. Instead he parroted lines like "Stay the course" and "We are making progress in Iraq" while the video feed from Baghdad and the body count at showed differently. And now it is too late to increase troop levels, even if we had more troops to send.

Nothing will change in Iraq until Senator Hagel, Senator McCain, Senator Lindsey Graham and other sane Republicans break ranks with the preznit and the vice preznit and say directly to the American people, "Bush and Cheney are responsible for the screw-ups in Iraq and rather than learn from their mistakes they are stubbornly 'staying the course' while Iraq goes up in flames."

Three months, perhaps six, and Republicans will break ranks with the White House completely and start hammering Bush, Cheney et al, especially if Bush's poll numbers continue to tank. Republicans will be scared that Bush's bad poll numbers will infect their own popularity come 2006. But if the Republicans in the congress and the senate had any guts at all, they would break ranks today, reassert congressional power over the executive branch and start demanding accountability and change from the Bush administration.

But I'm not holding my breath that Republicans will really hold Georgie Boy accountable for this "quagmire" any time soon.

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