Peggy Noonan begins her salute to Chuck Hagel's courage today by writing: "We all complain, and with justice, about the falseness of much that is said in Washington, and the cowardice that leaves a great deal unsaid." I wonder if [Peggy] Noonan's feelings will change after she reads this interview with Hagel in GQ Magazine in which he calls the president and members of his administration liars:GQ: And producing a National Intelligence Estimate that turned out to be doctored.
Hagel: Oh yeah. All this stuff was doctored. Absolutely. But that's what we were presented with. And I'm not dismissing our responsibility to look into the thing, because there were senators who said, "I don't believe them." But I was told by the president--we all were--that he would exhaust every diplomatic effort.
GQ: You were told that personally?
Hagel: I remember specifically bringing it up with the president. I said, "This has to be like your father did it in 1991. We had every Middle East nation except one with us in 1991. The United Nations was with us."
GQ: Did he give you that assurance, that he would do the same thing as his father?
Hagel: Yep. He said, "That's what we're going to do." But the more I look back on this, the more I think that the administration knew there was some real hard question whether he really had any WMD. In January of 2003, if you recall, the inspectors at the IAEA, who knew more about what Saddam had than anybody, said, "Give us two more months before you go to war, because we don't think there's anything in there." They were the only ones in Iraq. We hadn't been in there. We didn't know what the hell was in there. And the president wouldn't do it! So to answer your question--Do I regret that vote? Yes, I do regret that vote.
GQ: And you feel like you were misled?
Hagel: I asked tough questions of Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld before the war: How are you going to govern? Who's going to govern? Where is the money coming from? What are you going to do with their army? How will you secure their borders? And I was assured every time I asked, "Senator, don't worry, we've got task forces on that, they've been working, they're coordinated," and so on.
GQ: Do you think they knew that was false?
Hagel: Oh, I eventually was sure they knew. Even before we actually invaded, I had a pretty clear sense of it--that this administration was hell-bent on going to war in Iraq.GQ: Even if it meant deceiving Congress? Hagel: That's right.
This is, quite frankly, almost indistinguishable from the antiwar left's "Bush Lied, Troops Died" cry we've heard for so long. Maybe this is really what Hagel believes. Fair enough.
Ah yes. If "the left" said it, then it's obviously a hysterical overreaction. Unless of course, it happens to be true. But it's not good enough to equate to Hagel's criticims with anti-war sloganeering. Bevan then slanders Hagel by implying that Hagel doesn't even believe in his own hysterical criticisms. But if Hagel is just spinning a good yarn, exactly who is it aimed at? Will screechings of the left win over his Republican colleagues? The Republican base? Under Bevan's interpretation, Hagel is neither a very good liar nor a very good politician.
Of course, none of this is true. Given how events have gone in Iraq Hagel of course has every incentive to make it look like he was very concerned about possible consequences way back in 2003. But it's also likely that Hagel, after granting his support to this administration for years only to have it abused, after watching it result in the Republican party's devastation at the polls in November, and watching things go to hell in Iraq despite one promise after another from the Bush administration that we were about to turn the corner, is sick of being expected to get in line behind President Bush and accept his justifications for escalating the war in Iraq as gospel truth. Such a reaction would only make Hagel like the vast majority of Americans right now.