Senator Chuck Hagel’s Presidential Aspirations May Hang on Bolton


I have stated before that Senator Hagel would be one of the few U.S. Senators whom I could support in a race for the presidency. But lately, he seems to be determined to shake off those of us who look at him as one of the best hopes for a renewed, enlightened American engagement in world affairs.
Chuck Hagel is failing to cut what should be an admirable profile in his role on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The foreign policy interests he brings to the table are supposed to be one of his fundamental strong suits — but he is allowing himself to be rolled by ‘pugnacious isolationist-nationalists’ in the White House and is doing little to maintain an integrity about his decisions on Bolton.
Whereas Hagel was one of the first to articulate serious concerns about Bolton’s behavior and say that if any other news emerged about him, Hagel’s support would be in jeapordy — Hagel has nonetheless remained supportive of Bolton despite a long line of disturbing revelations, particularly his active role in attempting to undermine Colin Powell before key meetings.
I have recently met several “high net worth” Republicans in Northeastern states who played active chair and co-chair roles in both Bush-Cheney campaigns, and they have reported to TWN that they are losing hope in a Hagel presidential effort.
Their roster of reasons is interesting. Several of the people with whom I met have had one-on-one or small group meetings with Chuck Hagel.
First, they say that Hagel spends a lot of time thinking about running, discussing the possibility, pondering options — but has done little to hire personnel or to organize the huge fundraising effort required to mount a credible campaign.
Second, they report that he has a record of asking all the right questions about important foreign policy matters — but then never carves out a real leadership role to differentiate his wing of the party from that of the Cheney-Bolton wing.
They suggest that although he asked many of the key, insightful questions about the challenges that the Iraq War and aftermath would bring, he nonetheless fully signed on board with the White House’s questionable Iraq venture. Full stop.
On John Bolton, they argue that there could be no better a fight for Hagel to wage than one on this disappointing nomination. Getting Bolton to the U.N. is not a high level priority of the White House –- so Hagel could have shored up his foreign policy credentials by demanding better choices when it comes to representing America’s interests without alienating the White House too seriously.
The distance between the Cheney position and potential Hagel position on Bolton would have tethered him to a wing of Republicans who very much want to see evidence that he not only occasionally “sounds” like a leader — but is one in deed.
I think that there is still a chance for Hagel to understand why the vote on Bolton has morphed into something far greater than a vote on “Bolton the person”. It has become a test of leadership and vision for the nation. The Bolton vote is consequential across the board, and a vote for Bolton will only further alienate potential Republican support for Hagel that already doubts the seriousness of his presidential aspirations.
There is time for Hagel to shift, but thus far, there is little evidence other than some whispers here and there that Hagel is thinking of shifting course on Bolton and voting NO on him.
TWN will believe that when he out-Voinoviches Voinovich instead of trying (unsuccessfully) to out-Frist Frist.
The following is a letter prepared on May 19th from Senator Hagel to Ambassador Robert White. At the end, he states unequivocally that he will vote for Bolton.
Senator, please change your mind. Be a leader. Reconnect with those who think you are one of the best hopes for your party.

Chuck Hagel — Nebraska
248 Russell Senate Office Building, United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510-2705
May 19, 2005
Ambassador Robert E. White
Center for International Policy
1717 Massachusetts Avenue, NW
Suite 801
Washington, DC 20036
Dear Ambassador White:
Thanks for your letter regarding my speech at the National Press Club and the nomination of John Bolton to be the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. I appreciate hearing from you.
I share your belief regarding the importance of this position. Over the course of several weeks, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee conducted a very deliberate examination of the concerns, many of which you raise, regarding John Bolton’s nomination. I supported this process.
When I met with Mr. Bolton, I told him that protecting U.S. interests and pursuing our objectives depend more than ever on the strength of our relationships. He assured me that he will work hard to strengthen our alliances and carry out the President’s policies in representing the interests of the United States at the United Nations.
Based on what I have seen and heard, I voted to send Mr. Bolton’s nomination to the Senate floor without recommendation. The Senate leadership is expected to schedule a full Senate vote in the coming weeks. I will vote for Mr. Bolton.
Best wishes.
Chuck H. (signed personally)

More later.
— Steve Clemons