THE ANGRY ONE
Interview by Wil S. Hylton
GQ, January 2007
Chuck Hagel came home from Vietnam in 1968 with shrapnel in his chest, scars on his face, and an unyielding certainty that the freedom of men is theirs alone to win. As an infantryman, he had not bombed from above or commanded from behind; he had stood knee-deep in the muck, face-to-face with the enemy, firing on men and watching them die. It’s a hard memory to leave behind. Even after four decades and a lifetime of change — a fortune earned in the investment-banking business; a decade as a senator from Nebraska; and a position as one of the GOP’s conservative torchbearers with a shot at the White House — Hagel has put everything on the line to oppose the war in Iraq, refusing to send a “surge” of new troops into battle, or to forget the lessons he brought home from the killing fields long ago.
Sitting in his office on a recent afternoon, Hagel leaned back in his armchair to explain, in a voice reminiscent of sandpaper on rough oak, how he was deceived by the president, and won’t let it happen again.
Why do you oppose the “surge”?
For almost four years, this administration has been saying, “Just give us another six months. Give us more time. The Iraqis need more help. We need more troops. We need more money.” I am not willing to sacrifice more young men and women for a policy that isn’t working.
What do you think the real effect of the “surge” would be?
More American lives lost. Billions of dollars going into this hole. It will erode our standing in the Middle East and the world. It will destroy our force structure. It will divide this country in a bitter way not seen since Vietnam. And what do we get in return? The administration likes to point to these benchmarks—the Iraqis wrote a constitution, they had an election, they elected a unity government. The administration takes great pride in saying, “It’s now a sovereign nation. They’re in charge of their own affairs.” It’s completely untrue, but they say it anyway.
What would it take to secure Baghdad?
It’s not ours to secure. We have never understood that! We have framed this in a way that never made sense: “Win or lose in Iraq.” Wait a minute! There is no win or loss for us. The Iraqis will determine how this turns out. We can help them with our blood and our treasure and our standing, but in the end they have to deal with the sectarian problems. That is what’s consuming that country. It’s not Al Qaeda. It’s not the terrorists. That’s not the main problem over there. It’s a civil war!
Read the rest here.