Senator Hagel’s Speech Should be Retitled “Who in Washington Lost the World?!”


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Senator Chuck Hagel‘s speech title today, “The U.S. and Iran: At a Dangerous Crossroads” is all wrong.
What his speech should have been called is “WHO IN WASHINGTON LOST THE WORLD?!”
Here is a quick tour de force of grim global realities and America’s eroding position from Senator Hagel’s comments before a session organized by the Center for Strategic and International Studies:

Martial law declared in Pakistan; state of emergency in Georgia; Turkey threatens to invade Iraq; six members of the Afghan parliament along with scores of others killed in one of Afghanistan’s largest ever suicide attacks; an escalating drumbeat of U.S.-Iran tensions; seventy six U.S. Senators supported a resolution urging the President to designate an entire branch of Iran’s military as a terrorist organization. . .and the President announced unprecedented unilateral sanctions against Iran’s forces; and, finally, President Bush warned of World War III unless Iran acts to stop its efforts to develop a nuclear weapons capability.
These events are one frame of a broad confluence of events occurring in the world today. In the Middle East, Iraq is mired in a deep and dangerous civil war, with dim prospects for national political reconciliation. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict festers and worsens, and intra-Palestinian divisions present a pivotal obstacle, creating uncertain prospects for a U.S.-hosted peace conference. Syria is ostracized and insecure. Lebanon is paralyzed by a devastating political deadlock; Iran casts an unpredictable and ominous shadow over the region; and Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia are trapped in this dangerous net.
Globally, our relations with Russia have sunk to a new post-Cold War low. U.S.-Turkey relations are in tatters over our inability to translate Turkey’s 21st Century Government and objectives into a relationship of mutual interests that has been the case since World War II. The U.S.-India civil nuclear assistance deal has been set back and is now in a state of uncertainty. Afghanistan continues to lose ground. . .including record-breaking opium production. . .and Al Qaeda has re-emerged stronger than at any time since it was ousted from Afghanistan six years ago. The border between Afghanistan and Pakistan represents the most dangerous zone in the world. . .and we have little control and limited influence over it. Nuclear armed India casts a wary eye on its nuclear armed neighbor to the west.
And, the price of oil edges close to $100 per barrel. Record-breaking energy prices and surging demand are reshaping the global geopolitical economic power landscape. . .from Russia, China and India. . .to Angola, Nigeria, Venezuela, Norway. . .and the United States. The world is witnessing a diffusion of power never seen before that will increasingly be the norm for the 21st century.
Events are overtaking governments as they swirl in wild gyrations around us. All too often, we mistakenly try to compartmentalize and isolate events and issues, and do not stop to consider how a series of events are interconnected and impact the world. No nation can affect these events acting alone. Unless nations work to shape, influence and guide the course of global events, events will shape themselves…and the world, leading to an ever more dangerous planet.

I find it disappointing that Hagel’s commentary is not reflected strongly as of yet in the speeches and comments of leading presidential condenters. But there is still time.
Here are other excerpts from Hagel’s speech:

“The world faces challenges and opportunities today that carry with it implications well beyond this moment in time. American leadership is once again being called on at yet another transformational time in history to help set a new course for a rudderless world drifting in a sea of combustible dangers. In engaging Iran, the Middle East and the world we must be wide in our scope, clear in our purpose, measured in our words, strong in our actions, generous in our spirit, humble in our attitude and wise in our course.”
“The U.S. and Iran find themselves at a historic crossroads. What path we take will affect the future of mankind.”
“The world is moving toward a consensus of common interests. We must not squander this moment.”
“Loose talk of World War III, intimidation, threats, bellicose speeches only heighten the dangers we face in the world. Without offering solutions and building international alliances we only strengthen the hand of those who prey upon and play to a confused, frightened and disorganized world.”
“We must not play the Iranian President’s game by allowing ourselves to recklessly ricochet into a conflict that could help unite Iran and the Muslim world behind the very extremists that we should be isolating. Our strategy must be smarter. . .wiser. . .and get above the Iranian President. We must demonstrate to the rest of Iran’s leaders, the Iranian people, the Middle East and the world that it is an irresponsible Iranian President who could take Iran into conflict. . .not the United States.”
“Our strategy must be one focused on direct engagement and diplomacy. . .backed by the leverage of international pressure, military options, isolation and containment. . .not unlike the strategies that the United States pursued during the Cold War against the Soviet Union. . .with Libya that has led to Libya’s reintegration into the global community. . .and as we are doing today through the “Six-Party” process to address the North Korea nuclear issue. The core tenets of George Kennan’s “The Long Telegram” and the strategy of containment remain relevant today. This is how we should have handled Saddam Hussein.”
“Lasting solutions in the Middle East lie beyond January 2009. One of the most significant and potentially lasting contributions that this President could leave the United States and the world would be to begin to reverse the dangerous slide of America’s global standing and influence. Twenty years ago, sustained, disciplined diplomacy under President George H. W. Bush and Secretary of State James Baker laid the groundwork for Israeli-Palestinian diplomatic breakthroughs under the Clinton Administration. Today, the Administration must play for the “day after,” help set up the next phase of peace efforts, and not seek hurried, but unsustainable achievements. Over the next year, this Administration should “tee-up” the next phase of the Middle East peace puzzle. Move as far as realistic, achievable and responsible — but play for the long term. . .the lasting product. . .the one with real adhesive to it. This will require addressing Iran.”
“America is the great power — not Iran. Because of that awesome responsibility that comes with great power, we must be more mature in testing the proposition that the United States and Iran can overcome decades of mutual mistrust, suspicion and hostility.”
“America must not allow itself to become paralyzed by a fear that erodes our self confidence and trust in our Constitution and each other.”
“In the Middle East of the 21st Century, Iran will be a key center of gravity. . .and remain a significant regional power. The United States cannot change that reality. America’s strategic thinking and policies for the Middle East must acknowledge the role of Iran today and well into the future. . . America’s military might alone cannot successfully address these challenges or achieve any level of sustainable stability with Iran. The United States must employ a comprehensive strategy that uses all of its tools of influence within its foreign policy arsenal — political, diplomatic, economic, cultural, and military.”
“Last month, I wrote President Bush expressing my concerns about the path that we are now on regarding Iran. I told him that unless there is a strategic shift in our policies, I believe the United States will find itself in a dangerous and increasingly isolated position in the coming months. I do not see how the collective actions that we are now taking will produce the results that we seek — on Iran’s nuclear program, in Iraq, on the Israel-Palestine issue, or on any issue. If this continues unchanged, countries will grow uncertain over our motives and more unwilling to risk tougher measures against Iran. Our ability to sustain a united international front will weaken, leaving us with limited options.”
“Rather than acting like a nation riddled with the insecurities of a schoolyard bully, we ought to carry ourselves with the confidence that should come from the dignity of our heritage. . .from the experience of our history. . .and from the strength of our humanity. . .not from the power of our military.”
“Now is the time for the United States to actively pursue an offer of direct, unconditional, and comprehensive talks with Iran. We cannot afford to refuse to consider this strategic choice any longer. We should make clear that everything is on the table — our issues and Iran’s. . .similar to the opportunity that we squandered in 2003 for comprehensive talks with Iran. This should include offering Iran a credible way back in from the fringes of the international community, security guarantees if it is willing to give up nuclear weapons ambitions, as well as other incentives. This will require the day-to-day efforts and presence of a very senior administration official, higher ranking than the American Ambassador to Iraq.
The offer should be made even as we continue other elements of our strategy. . .working with our allies on multilateral sanctions applying financial pressure. . .working in the UN Security Council on a third sanctions resolution. . .and working in the region to support those Middle East countries who share our concerns with Iran. We should seek to work in concert with Russian President Putin, who traveled to Tehran last month to visit the Supreme Leader of Iran, Grand Ayatollah Khamenei and propose a new initiative to help resolve the standoff over Iran’s nuclear program. We should seriously explore the proposal from the Arab Gulf States. . .announced by Saudi Foreign Minister, Prince Saud. . .to establish a nuclear consortium to provide any Middle East state with enriched nuclear fuel, including Iran. Initial Iranian reactions could provide an opening for common interests.
Creative approaches like these, rather than war speeches and talk of World War III, would strengthen our ability across the board to deal with Iran. Our friends and allies and international institutions would be more confident to stand with us. . .not just because of our power. . .but rather because they trusted our purpose, our words and our actions. It could create a new dynamic in U.S.-Iran relations, in part by incentivizing the Iranians to react to the possibility of better relations with the West. . .because it is in their interests. We should be prepared that any dialogue with Iran will take time and diplomatic effort, focus and discipline.”
“By refusing to engage Iran in direct, unconditional and comprehensive talks, we are perpetuating dangerous geo-political unpredictabilities. Our refusal to recognize Iran’s influence does not decrease its influence, but rather increases it. Diplomacy is an essential tool to ratchet down the pressure of conflict, increase the leverage of strength and create dialogue and opportunities to identify common interests.”

Great speech. We need more to speak from this sort of script.
— Steve Clemons


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