"We should start figuring out how we get out of there," [Sen. Chuck] Hagel [R-Neb.] said on "This Week" on ABC. "But with this understanding, we cannot leave a vacuum that further destabilizes the Middle East. I think our involvement there has destabilized the Middle East. And the longer we stay there, I think the further destabilization will occur."
Hagel said "stay the course" is not a policy. "By any standard, when you analyze 2 1/2 years in Iraq … we're not winning," he said.
Whole thing here. Hagel is a Vietnam vet with the Purple Hearts to protect him against Mike Dukakis-type charges of weak-kneed pacifism. He was also a fence-sitter on voting in favor of force in Iraq, though he eventually signed on to giving the president the go-ahead, causing brass-balled Reason cartoonist Peter "Hate" Bagge to label him a political "wuss."
Hagel's one of those upper-house hopefuls that are always running for president and this latest pronouncement seems in keeping with whatever delusional dreams of residing in the White House that all too many senators harbor. But it definitely represents a problem for Bush and conservatives. Hagel pulled a 95 percent rating from the American Conservative Union in 2003; he's not the type of guy they can brush off.
And he's definitely in synch with the country, which shares his grim assessment of the Iraq occupation at this point in time. In March 2004, 65 percent of Americans supported going to war; now only 44 percent does. And a record high of 57 percent thinks the war has made the country "less safe" from terrorism. More poll results here.
Whatever else you can say about Iraq, this much seems inarguable: The Bush administration has failed to define the parameters of success there in any really convincing way. And whatever the successes of the occupation may be, they've done a piss-poor job of making clear a) what they are and b) precisely what level of American sacrifice is both required and acceptable.