Scott Paul on Hagel: What Could Have Been


I’m a big Chuck Hagel fan. His roll call votes rarely turn out the way I’d like since he’s been a party loyalist for most of his career, but he’s been an important voice for comity in the political process and multilateralism in foreign policy for a long time. The Republican Party and the country need him very badly.
I want him to run for president or for re-election to his senate seat. Either in the senate or in presidential debates, his ideas need to be heard.
But I can’t help wishing he could have run for president under different circumstances. I wish he hadn’t needed to come out so forcefully against the president on Iraq – and he did need to come out forcefully.

Here’s my reasoning: I want Hagel to pick a fight in the Republican Party over the direction of our foreign policy.
His general outlook on America’s role in the world is mostly in line with mine, and if polls are to be trusted, mostly in line with the majority of Americans and even Republicans. I wanted him to give voice, through the primary process, to the many internationalist Republicans who President Bush and Party leaders have ignored. Outside the foreign policy realm, Hagel is arguably the most conservative Republican senator in the presidential field, so his candidacy would have made a great test case.
That can’t happen anymore because Hagel has become the anti-Iraq-war candidate. While most Republicans share his general views on foreign policy, a majority of them – especially the base voters – have rallied to support President Bush on Iraq. If Iraq accounts for most of the foreign policy debate, as it did in the 2006 midterm elections, the larger differences – on which Hagel could really build momentum among Republicans – will be obscured.
I don’t believe Republicans will support an anti-Iraq-war candidate. Chuck Hagel did the right think by voicing his opposition as vocally as he has – it has certainly changed the dynamics of the debate for the better, and for that I am very grateful. The cost of that opposition will unfortunately be an opportunity to test whether Republicans really support the kind of foreign policy that their leaders practice.
— Scott Paul


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