Previously Unknown Hagel Letter Warns Rice of Russia Collision


In February 2008, Senator Chuck Hagel wrote to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, copied to Defense Secretary Robert Gates and National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley, warning that our policies with Kosovo, Serbia, and elsewhere in Europe could be brewing up a storm with Russia.
Here is the letter as a pdf, but I also post below.
hagel kosovo one.jpg
hagel kosovo two.jpg
Of particular note in Chuck Hagel’s letter relating vaguely to autonomous provinces in Georgia:

. . .Across the board, officials are clearly concerned about the consequences — including unintended and uncontrollable consequences — of a Kosovar declaration of independence. This includes a former senior Russian official known for his pro-Western views, who told me that, “there is no way that one cannot view a Kosovar declaration of independence as anything but a precedent” for other similar conflicts.

Hagel also writes:

At a time when our relations with Russia are badly frayed, our military is overly engaged, we’re dealing with serious fissures in NATO over Afghanistan, and European willingness to respond militarily to an outbreak of violence in Kosovo and the Balkans is uncertain, I urge you to proceed with caution, weighing carefully the potential implications of a diplomatic event that could stretch well beyond the Balkans.
We need to weigh our current policy against our strategic interests — in the Balkans, in Europe, with Russia, and in a shared, international understanding of national sovereignty under international law. It is not at all clear to me that a unilateral settlement of Kosovo can provide a lasting, stable solution for this region. We must think through all of the complexities ofthe Kosovo issue, the grave risk of violence against Serb minorities in Kosovo, and how to avoid isolating and alienating Serbia.

This letter warns the administration that its actions in the Balkans ran the risk of triggering blowback from Russia — and yet there is no evidence that the administration worried that Russia would exploit the model of Kosovo in other ways — particularly as we saw Russia assert the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
While many US Senators write to the President and other cabinet officers on requests for consideration of this project or that, Chuck Hagel was regularly provoking the administration with sensible, realistic assessments about America’s geostrategic choices and their consequences.
Many of these letters — if not all — seem to have been ignored. I have not been able as of yet to find a letter from Rice back to Senator Hagel — but Hagel’s letter is enough to show that the administration had more than adequate warning from Senate Foreign Relations Committee members that a Russia storm could be on the way.
— Steve Clemons


32 comments on “Previously Unknown Hagel Letter Warns Rice of Russia Collision

  1. Sah-Sen says:

    I wonder why the current administration would be to blatent in their ignorance. I don’t believe their worried about Democracy in the region. There are plenty of other Democracies to defend world wide. I suspect if they are interested it probably has something to do with oil, or other resources…


  2. Mr.Murder says:

    Gladio holdovers from the Vatican.


  3. Kathleen says:

    Kathleen G…that is totally weird… I was going to call myself Kathleen G, too because of my maiden name …so I’ll just be plain old Kathleen then…. I hadn’t thought about Stephen Hadley since the Plame leak and John Bolton’s non-confirmation days….I always felt Bolton was connected with the Plame leak because of John Hannah and David Wurmser being on loan from Bolton to Cheney and they testified that Bolton is who told Cheney about Plame’s position at the CIA….an then i believe I read reports that Bolton is who physically received the Niger forgeries from the Italian Ambassador…. but I digress….still, Cheney just stopped in Italy on his Georgia, Ukraine trip….during Denver… new batch of forgeries, perhaps.


  4. Kathleen G says:

    We do have more than one Kathleen. I am the one who asked the questions about Hadley. I will call myself Kathleen G


  5. Mr.Murder says:

    Balkans items, spillover from the anti Red Brigade/SISMI crew. Same people who sold us the Niger forgery.
    Fascists arming fascists.
    What of the those well heads that were supposedly missing for audit, destined for Nigeria and found in former eastern bloc states?
    Where did this plausible material come from?
    If you really wanted push back at Russia, review the poisoning death of plausible asset Alexander Litvinenko as a breach of EU state sovereignty.
    Chances are he’s got friends on both sides of former curtain who were knee deep in the Niger forgeries. Most likely the rumor of dirty bomb precursors that turned out to be accounted for from former bloc countries(have we forgot about Poland?), headed to or from Nigeria, for subcontractors of a certain company now deemed infamous for the VP’s stock options he gets from there. Who knows, he might even have been around Prague(or knows who was) for the Atta rumors.
    Not too far removed, the 90’s era tried to advance similar stories on black market items going through the Balkans. Usually headed to Iraq.
    The usual Ledeen model. The Balkans had a lot of assets from those Italian Navy/anti Red Brigade days. How odd they were attempting to pattern the Bushco. line about Saddam in ’96 when the GOP was putsching its way back into power with Newt.
    Right now the EU should push Russia over the poisoning, hard.
    That could reopen the Plame case and drive additional discovery.
    You’ll unearth most of the Ledeen trail once again. Aluminum tubes, etc.
    All of it coming back to the Hagel cautions on the Balkans to some degree, from the network that overlaps it. Maybe, aside from expediency and stealing some of the actual success legacy of the Clintons, she was paying back her debts to the Hadley helpers.


  6. Kathleen says:

    Kathleen…do we have more than one Kathleen, now? I just read the previous two posts, which I didn’t write…but I do agree with your valid questions…


  7. Kathleen says:

    Stephen Hadley ignored several warnings from Richard Clarke having to do with the strong possibility that terrorist would attempt to attack the U.S. from the air. What’s up with Hadley?
    Seems he would rather get his intelligence and warnings from Micheal Ledeen or Ghorbanifar?
    Just who is Hadley working for?
    Seems to be a costly and serious pattern here?


  8. Kathleen says:

    Is it my imagination or does Stephen Hadley have a serious problem with ignoring serious and valid warnings from reliable sources?


  9. Nancy/Huntington Beach,Ca says:

    What a great suprise seeing you on Countdown Steve! Congrats! Wow,obviously that means KO reads your blog? Very cool! He’ll certainly be the wiser for it. Thanks to both of you for fighting our battles!


  10. Alex says:

    You were great on Countdown, Steve! Thanks for stressing “consequences.”


  11. bil says:

    Posted by Steve Clemons Sep 18, 5:51PM – Link
    Dan — I think I will be on “Countdown with Keith Olbermann”
    talking about this very issue tonight.
    Excellent Steve! We were watching and CHEERING!!!
    Don’t Stop…


  12. Tom Perry says:

    There is no question that our government and governing party are at the same time incompetent, arrogant, and ignorant. But they advertise themselves as such. It’s sort of their party line. I have tried for years to explain to people that there are consequences to actions, often foreseeable to persons of historical and geographic learning. But we worship when we should think, believe when we should examine, and rigid when we should be resilient. We have arrived at the logical destination of the prevailing ideology of the last 30 years. We need a paradigm shift.
    ps: the captcha is hard to see.


  13. David says:

    “It’s amazing to see the utter meltdown of the Republican Party. They have gone further and further down the road of ignorant wingnut populism in recent years, and are now little but a nitwit, fly-by-night operation of brazen influence-peddling, redneck cronyism, bungling misgovernment and lying tomfoolery. And they can’t even competently manage their cronyism.”
    Dan, you’ve got some spot on prose as poetry happening here.


  14. Clement_W says:

    I don’t claim to be a foreign policy expert but I do have common sense and an ability to put myself in various shoes and think about what I would do in a particular circumstance. When the time for Kosovo independence came up, reading the news reports about all the reactions of the parties involved, I did come to the conclusion that Russia, which, even to this plain old country boy is really back to being the USSR, would react in the way it did. I am not Chuck Hagel, definitely not a senator or even for that matter a newsman. But I do have a lot of common sense and an interest in history. Condoleezza Rice, I am absolutely certain, knew all that has happened even before it was going to happen, just as Chuck Hagel did. She does not have the luxury of telling us ahead of time what is going to happen. I am sure she looked at his letters and appreciated his agreement with her.
    I have heard a lot of pontificating in the US and European press and of course the politicians about tolerance and expanding our ideals of democracy, freedom of religion, respect for human rights etc.. I also remember vividly the situation in Bosnia. When Bill Clinton went to bat for the muslims in Bosnia and George W. Bush recognized Kosovo, (remember, these were not unilateral actions. NATO and the UN were involved primarily.) it was inevitable that the USSR (politely Russia) would be offended. Avoiding war even when all that we hold dear is threatened is moral cowardice and hypocritical, especially when it is some poor little country or a different religious group. Yes, the moslems in the Middle East do not recognize the efforts made on behalf of their co-religionists in Europe by the US They are hypocrites like us too. Do not forget Rwanda, Darfur or any number of these invisible or quickly forgotten debacles.
    I do have faith that doing what is right will eventually result in a much better world, especially if we are willing to put our money where or mouth is. Sometimes it is worth giving our lives for what we believe in.


  15. Steve Clemons says:

    Dan — I think I will be on “Countdown with Keith Olbermann”
    talking about this very issue tonight.


  16. Dan Kervick says:

    I think you should pursue the story about McCain’s comments on Spain and Zapatero. There are several accounts of what he might have meant to say, and why, but no matter how you slice it, it’s a bungled mess and an embarrassment to the country.
    The man is just another Bush-style foreign policy incompetent. And now he is backed up by an even more deeply incompetent number two.
    It’s amazing to see the utter meltdown of the Republican Party. They have gone further and further down the road of ignorant wingnut populism in recent years, and are now little but a nitwit, fly-by-night operation of brazen influence-peddling, redneck cronyism, bungling misgovernment and lying tomfoolery. And they can’t even competently manage their cronyism.


  17. carsick says:

    Does an October surprise endorsement seem so far to anticipate any longer?
    It may not seem a surprise to the media, news junkies and partisans but it will to the casual voter.


  18. Doc Holliday says:

    Correction: What a Daisy Condoleezza Rice is, what a Daisy! McPalin is probably been telling Bush, I’ll be (your)Huckleberry!


  19. Doc Holliday says:

    What a Daisy Condoleezza Rice is, what a Daisy! McPalin is probably been telling Bush, I’ll be Huckleberry!


  20. Bill R. says:

    Today it’s reported that Hegel has publicly noted the unqualified status of Sarah Palin, ridiculing her assertion that she is qualified because she can see Russia from Alaska. If he really cares about the country, shouldn’t he endorse Obama now. His neutrality is damning.


  21. JohnH says:

    “Us policy towards Russia has been singularly inept.” And once again Condi, the Russia expert, has proven herself singularly incompetent. It appears that her only qualification for SOS is the ability to jabber a lot to avoid answering questions. That and her ability to discern style in foreign-made shoes…


  22. Sue says:

    One shouldn’t be surprised that McCain didn’t want to say anything
    about 26 years he spent in Congress. He didn’t accomplish much.
    See this:


  23. easy e says:

    Perhaps the Bush policies haven’t really been considered failures by the puppet-string-pullers (aka military industrial complex, war profiteers, PNAC crowd). After all, heightened tensions and the growing threat of Russia will trigger increased defense spending and more $$$. Now, that’s “change” the string-pullers really long for. And McSame is their ideal puppet to further these policies.


  24. jon says:

    Rising tensions and dangers with a resurging post-Soviet Russia
    might be the single thing that Rice is actually educated and
    prepared to contend with. The administrations actions leading
    up to, and following, Georgia’s profoundly misguided incursion
    into separatist territory could not have been more amateurish.
    Bush and other’s subsequent grandstanding – to no effect
    whatsoever – made the US appear even more ignorant, foolish
    and impotent than necessary, while further aggrandizing Putin.
    The US cannot be expected to be able to fully control the actions
    of its clients or clients, nor would that be advisable. The US
    might be expected to render helpful advice and assistance, and
    to craft a strategy that will anticipate and provide options to
    minimize problems when unexpected events or other calamities
    might occur.
    US policy towards Russia has been singularly inept, and the
    strategic implications of their actions do not bode well for
    American interests in regards to Russia, or on Russia’s
    periphery. I’ve been wondering when some serious attention
    and discussion would be brought to bear on these problems.


  25. Linda says:

    In case nobody has noticed about Condi and Sarah, lipstick, nice shoes, and the ability to talk fast and use a lot of words to avoid answering questions directly works very well in politics whether one knows a lot or a little about foreign affairs.
    Most of the men on Foreign Relations commitee and 9/11 commission got nowhere in asking tough questions of Condi, and when the only woman Democrat, Barbara Boxer, tries, she is attacked by Republican pundits and media.
    And kind of off topic, but one thing that has been bothering me is that all McCain’s Senate service has been on the Armed Services Committee and not on the Foreign Relations Committee. So it’s not surprising that his first answer to problems is military rather than diplomacy. I’m surprised that Obama campaign has never pointed this out.


  26. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Steve, even the UK media is beginning to cite your comments…
    Its astounding to me that we can have statesmen like Hagel in the wings, yet some vindictive abomination like this Palin creature is on the slate. Her ascension telegraphs an INCREASE in Neo-con power, when our hopes were for the opposite.
    I can even disregard Hagel’s apparently criminal conduct in regards to ES&S when considering the fact that this lump of clay Palin may plop her ass on the throne, enabling these monsters like Kristol and Cheney to sculpt further disasters.
    BTW, check your email. Let me know what you think of C’s latest efforts. She’s done some portraits of our dog, Jake, that are pretty cool.


  27. Bil says:

    Yup, agree with all AND I don’t believe for a minute that the
    generalized American people would understand the nuance of this
    new cold war however dumbed down. So that is a VERY slippery
    slope for Obama and I hope they are rehearsing the debate with
    MANY scenarios since McSame will start rattling sabers and that
    gets votes in Amerika.
    Bill Maher new (now old) rule. “Stop saying the American people are
    smarter than that”.
    How does Condi the Incompetent seem to slip by unscathed in all
    this? Nice shoes?


  28. Linda says:

    I agree with all the above but am thinking also that leadership as President is more than being cheerleader-in-chief or even feeling people’s pain. It also means leveling with and talking frankly to the American people about realistic expectations and long-range solutions. The answer to every problem, economic/foreign affairs, has been that our economy and military are strong–relax and go shopping.
    There still is one thing that Bush can and should do as a lame duck, i.e., call in both Obama and McCain as well as Pelosi and Reid, Barney Frank, Biden, Dodd, Lugar, etc. and announce a transition plan that will begin November 5th to reassure the American people and the world and start working on the myriad problems we all face.
    Both candidates also are making too many promises that we can’t afford to keep. Happy days aren’t here again, and it looks more like twilight than morning in America.


  29. bob h says:

    The problem for Obama is how he presents a nuanced view like Hagel’s in a debate about Russia with Commander Blimp, who will be demagoging in a search for a game-changer. I hope Obama and Susan Rice are considering their debate position on Russia very carefully. One wonders whether our Presidential election process is so dumbed-down that nuanced foreign policy positions can even be discussed


  30. bob says:

    We seem to forget, because he has held the office for 8 years, just
    how unqualified Bush is for the job of President.
    Can anyone point out just one instance where he has shown a
    strong command of the facts on any subject whatsoever?
    As history unfolds, Iraq could be a distant fourth to the
    reemergence of Russia, a nuclear Iran, and a decimated economy,
    when we finally tally up this failure of a Presidency.


  31. Helena Cobban says:

    I’m glad you posted this, Steve. It would also be very relevant to know whether Hagel said or wrote anything publicly at the time, and if so what. I know I blogged about the folly of recognizing Kosovar independence back in February and I don’t recall him saying anything. It could have made a good difference if he had?
    Nick’s point about official Washington paying attention only to immediate consequences (and the concomitant tendency to denigrate anyone who says, “But wait, there are some other underlying problems here”) is one we’ve seen for many, many years regarding every single facet of Middle East policy. Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.


  32. Nikolas Gvosdev says:

    As someone who also flollowed this issue closely, let me say that one problem was that many people here in DC were focused only on the 24-to-48 hour reaction cycle–that is to say, if nothing “bad” happened immediately after Kosovo declared independence, then that meant things would be fine and that acceptance would ultimately come. When, 48 hours after, Russia had not applied a Kosovo style precedent to South Ossetia or Abkhazia, the feeling of relief was pretty palpable in this town, and this was also used to devalue those who had urged caution. The argument was that if Russia did “nothing” in immediate reaction, this could be interpreted to mean that Moscow was prepared to acquiesce.
    This DC myopia–which takes into account only the short-term cycle and doesn’t really consider long-term consequences–is a major reason for the problems we now find ourselves enmeshed in.


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