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Senator Chuck Hagel Tells it Like it Is
Last uploaded : Friday 8th Feb 2008 at 00:45
Contributed by : Carol Gould


Senator Chuck Hagel Tells It like It is
At the House of Commons
Presented by Republicans Abroad and the Henry Jackson Society
Report by Carol Gould
17 January 2008

Those of us who were able to get to the House of Commons on the afternoon of January 17, 2008 heard a compelling talk by United States Senator Chuck Hagel (R-Nebraska) who had arrived in Great Britain just one flight away from the British Airways jet that crash-landed at Heathrow. I have to confess to envying his calm demeanour, but his background as a much-decorated Vietnam war hero no doubt gives him the edge in handling hair-raising situations.

The Senator, known for his liberal views and tough stance on the handling of the Iraq war by the Bush Administration, was hosted by Republicans Abroad and the Henry Jackson Society.

He opened his presentation by observing that when the US dollar is no longer the world’s currency, that will be a dangerous time for the USA, adding the ominous fact that one-half of the American national debt is to foreign creditors. The Senator, who is best know for saying it is unpatriotic NOT to question the actions of your party, said the areas of the world that got ‘left behind’ (one assumed he meant during the Cold War), the Middle East, Africa, South America and North Korea are now the most combustible areas of the world.

After World War II, NATO, the United Nations, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund were formed and were meant to unite nations on troubling issues. Senator Hagel is very concerned about the brittle relationship with the former Soviet Union, noting that on the day of his appearance in London the United Kingdom had had a serious run-in with the Russians: the son of former Labour leader Neil Kinnock had been arrested in Moscow during a bizarre standoff involving the banning of the British Council. The Senator said he was also worried about relations with China and India and suggested the West needs new ‘frames of reference’ as these countries experience burgeoning economic success and growth. ‘We have to act as a global community,’ he added.

Troubled American financial institutions, Sen. Hagel said, are going to the Far East for funds whilst Russia is sitting on a mountain of cash with no national debt. He told the group he would be attending a conference the following day at King’s College in London with delegates from Jordan, Israel, Britain and the United States, and remarked that after a visit to the American Embassy in London he could tell us that UK-US intelligence was superb. (This is something I am told time and again by old intelligence hands -- that no matter how sour the ‘special relationship’ is in the public arena, the security services remain close and friendly.)

Sen. Hagel then went on to some frank observations: he feels the Republican Party has come loose of its moorings and has lost its way. In this context he said the Democrats are more intellectually honest. Having run up a national debt, the GOP is not the party he first voted for in 1968 atop a tank in Vietnam. He noted that politics mirrors society but does not control society, adding that the US electoral system is bizarre and the Iowa caucus absurd. This is not ‘raging democracy,’ rather an aberration. He feels that politics ‘self-corrects’ the direction of the country and that there is ‘too much government.’

The Senator provided some sobering statistics: 78% of Americans think the USA is going the wrong way, and this figure has been consistent since mid-2006. This is why the GOP lost in November 2006, a devastating indictment if the country’s leadership. 11% of voters approve of the way their congressional leaders are conducting their work.

Regarding the presidential election and Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor, Hagel ‘could not frame him.’ One got the impression his favoured candidate was the incumbent New York Mayor, Michael Bloomberg. What is significant, he added, is that the country has overcome old biases and American politics is experiencing a ‘re-orientation.’ The Senator said, ‘If we are wise enough not to squander an opportunity in the world, this is the most exciting time in world history’ and added that one cannot govern without multi-lateral concerns; he sees the next Cabinet being bi-partisan. The world, he said, needs strong leadership and if you are in politics you should want to make the world a better place.

In the question and answer segment, the Senator addressed a concern from a British guest who was appalled that American Defence Secretary Robert Gates had said Britain was not pulling its weight in Iraq and Afghanistan. Senator Hagel responded by saying that Mr Gates has been under enormous pressure when he said this, having ‘inherited a mess from Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz.’ The Senator felt that drug, dropout and crime convictions should be waived to allow young people to join the armed forces, which are under quota at present.

How relevant is NATO? Senator Hagel said ‘Iraq nearly killed NATI’ and noted that Dutch, Canadian and British forces in Afghanistan had suffered more losses than the United States.

I asked him about the United States adopting a national health system like that in the United Kingdom, and he replied that health care will be on the table for the next president and that a commission should be appointed to deal with this.

From his presentation we were left with a notable quote: ‘You may think you are leading, and look around and see nobody following, then you are out taking a walk.’

Carol Gould is Editor of Current Viewpoint:

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