- By Josh Rogin
The American people are weary of war and aren’t up for another military adventure in either Syria or Iran, former Nebraska senator and potential defense secretary Chuck Hagel told The Cable.
Hagel sat down for a 90-minute exclusive interview in his Georgetown office in May, well before President Barack Obama began vetting him for a top national security position in his second-term cabinet, perhaps to replace Leon Panetta at the Pentagon.
In previously unreleased portions of that interview, Hagel commented on how the United States should move forward in Syria and Iran, urging caution, patience, and a focus on multilateral diplomacy.
"I think we’ve got to be very wise and careful on this and continue to work with the multilateral institutions in the lead in Syria. I don’t think America wants to be in the lead on this," he said. "What you have to do is manage the problem. You manage it to a higher ground of possible solutions, ultimately to try to get to a resolution. You don’t have control over what’s going on in Syria."
"You’ve got to be patient, smart, wise, manage the problem," he said.
The Obama administration has resisted intervention in Syria based on the risk that arming the opposition directly could fuel the fire and out of concern that establishing a no-fly zone would require a major U.S. commitment with uncertain results.
Hagel said he agreed with that policy, and urged caution and patience when dealing with the Syrian crisis — though it’s worth reiterating that these remarks were made in May.
"I don’t think I’d do anything different from what the Obama administration is doing. I think they are handling this responsibly and working with everybody. It’s frustrating; it’s maddening. I get all that. But we’re still in the longest war in American history and our standing in that part of the world is not that good," he said.
Hagel believes that the world is moving toward more diffused power structure where the United States no longer remains the single unchallenged superpower. That, combined with America’s internal problems and the desire for Americans to end over a decade of war, points to the need for a diplomatic solution in Syria, he said.
"We’ve got to understand great-power limitations. There are so many uncontrollable variables at play in Syria and the Middle East," Hagel said. "You work through the multilateral institutions that are available, the U.N., the Arab league. The last thing you want is an American-led or Western-led invasion into Syria."
On Iran, Hagel said that polls available at the time showed that the vast majority of both Americans and Israelis didn’t think it wise for Israel to attack Iran in the near term. There’s plenty more time to seek a diplomatic solution, he said.
"The two options — attack Iran or live with a nuclear-armed Iran — may be eventually where we are. But I believe most people in both Israel and the United States think there’s a ways to go before we get to those," Hagel said. "I think Obama is handling this exactly the right way. I can understand differences between Obama and the Israeli prime minister, but we have differences with all our allies."
Hagel rejected the notion that Obama has put distance between the United States and Israel or mistreated Israel in any way.
"That’s complete nonsense. Anything who knows anything about this knows it’s nonsense," he said.
Hagel expressed frustration with the ideological bent in the Republican Party, especially its far-right factions, and said that the GOP of old had the right idea about how to handle national security. He is also still upset about the Republican handling of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"You’ve got a Republican Party that is having difficulty facing up to the fact that when you look at what happened the first eight years of the 21st century, that was under Republican direction. You had a conservative Republican president get us into two wars without paying for either of them," he said. "We financed the wars off budget. So the Republican Party is dealing with a schizophrenia that it was the Republican Party leadership that got us into this mess."
Hagel thinks foreign policy should be determined by the U.S. national interest.
"I don’t think you can lead by ideology. Ideology gets a nation into a lot of trouble… There’s a streak of intolerance in the Republican Party today, and that scares people. Intolerance is a very dangerous thing in a society because it always leads to a tragic ending," he said. "Now the Republican Party is in the hands of the extreme right, more than ever before."
America must do more to shape a "new world order" that account for the rise of new world powers by actively engaging in the reform and promotion of multilateral organizations and structures, he said.
"That doesn’t mean we acquiesce to anyone us or give up to anyone else, but we’ve got to adjust to the realities of these emerging power," he said. "We should be embracing this and actively leading the change because it’s in our interest, just like Truman and Eisenhower did. And we’re missing that part of it. We can’t do anything on our own."
American decline is not inevitable, but the power to ensure or prevent that decline is in Americans’ hands, according to Hagel: "This nutty talk about America being on the back side of history, that isn’t going to be because of China or Brazil or India. If that occurs, that’s because we let it happen. That’s on us."
Panetta reassures Israel; Karzai to the Pentagon this morning; Hagel talks talking points on Iran; What Obama should ask him tomorrow; Scowcroft is who he is; Is Brennan good for the anti-drone crowd? And more.Gordon Lubold
Gordon Lubold is a national security reporter for Foreign Policy. He is also the author of FP's Situation Report, an e-mailed newsletter that is blasted out to more than 70,000 national security and foreign affairs subscribers each morning that includes the top nat-sec news, breaking news, tidbits, nuggets and what he likes to call "candy." Before arriving at FP, he was a senior advisor at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington, where he wrote on national security and foreign policy. Prior to his arrival at USIP, he was a defense reporter for Politico, where he launched the popular Morning Defense early morning blog and tip-sheet. Prior to that, he was the Pentagon and national security correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor, and before that he was the Pentagon correspondent for the Army Times chain of newspapers. He has covered conflict in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other countries in South Asia, and has reported on military matters in sub-Saharan Africa, East Asia and Latin America as well as at American military bases across the country. He has spoken frequently on the sometimes-contentious relationship between the military and the media as a guest on numerous panels. He also appears on radio and television, including on CNN, public radio's Diane Rehm and To the Point, and C-SPAN's Washington Journal. He lives in Alexandria with his wife and two children.| Situation Report |
Yochi Dreazen is a Managing Editor for News at Foreign Policy. He is also writer-in-residence at the Center for a New American Security. His book about military suicide was published by Random House's Crown division in 2014.
Prior to joining Foreign Policy, Dreazen was a contributing editor at the Atlantic and the senior national security correspondent for National Journal. He began his career at the Wall Street Journal and spent 11 years at the newspaper, most recently as its military correspondent. He was born in Chicago, and later attended the University of Pennsylvania. At Penn, he edited the award-winning daily campus newspaper and graduated Magna Cum Laude in 1999 with degrees in History and English. He was hired by the Wall Street Journal immediately after graduation. Dreazen arrived in Iraq in April 2003 with the Fourth Infantry Division, and spent the next two years living in Baghdad as the Wall Street Journal's main Iraq correspondent.
Dreazen has made more than 12 lengthy trips to Iraq and Afghanistan and has spent a total of nearly four years on the ground in the two countries, mostly doing front-line combat embeds. He has reported from more than 20 countries, including Pakistan, Russia, China, Israel, Japan, Turkey, Morocco, and Saudi Arabia.
In 2010, Dreazen received the Military Reporters & Editors association’s top award for domestic military reporting in a large publication for a series of articles about military suicide and the psychological traumas impacting veterans of the two long wars. His writing has appeared in the Washington Post, Smithsonian, Tablet and the New Republic and he appears regularly on TV and radio programs such as NPR's Diane Rehm Show and PBS' Washington Week with Gwen Ifill. Dreazen gives frequent lectures about journalism, the wars and current events to both civilian and military audiences.
Dreazen lives in Washington with his wife, Annie Rosenzweig Dreazen, and their beloved Golden Retriever, Charlie.| The Cable |