"Quit talking about, 'Did the surge work or not work,' or, 'Did you vote for this or support this,'" Hagel said Thursday on a conference call with reporters.
"Get out of that. We're done with that. How are we going to project forward?" the Nebraska senator said. "What are we going to do for the next four years to protect the interest of America and our allies and restructure a new order in the world. ... That's what America needs to hear from these two candidates. And that's where I am."
How cute. Take a nice piece of advice, concentrate on what comes next, and rob that discussion of all context. How are we supposed to judge who is best fit to move on to the next steps without some understanding of how people have judged things in the past? Especially something so recent and directly on point.
It isn't that Hagel and Obama don't have a legitimate, if wrongheaded in my view, defense. It isn't that Hagel and Obama don't have a legitimate, if wrongheaded in my view, defense. Stupid policy choices work out all the time. That doesn't make them wise. If you jump off a bridge and a truck full of hay just happens to come by and break the fall, it hardly confirms ones good judgment.
Hagel and Obama have a problem with that defense, and it was one I pointed out to many, especially my co-blogger Johua Foust at A Second Hand Conjecture, all last year. You have to make that case ahead of time, but Joshua, Hagel and Obama (and a host of others) didn't make that argument. No, the surge was doomed, impossible, and showed the intellectual vacuity of their opponents.
That showed a huge error, and a sense of hubris about their own judgment versus others that was bound to put them in a bind. They could (and in Joshua's defense, I believe he would if directly asked) admit they misjudged the situation, the strategic and tactical possibilities, etc. That they should have recognized the potential, etc. Then they could just say they think in retrospect the policy was the right way to go, or if they feel otherwise, argue that the decision was unwise even if it worked out.
That, no matter how true, or reasonable as intellectual rhetoric, is political death. They know that. It may be unfair and unfortunate, but politics just doesn't work that way. So, instead we get the vacuous and hypocritical dancing Hagel, and Obama, wish to put us through.
And it is hypocritical. Let us count the ways:
1. Last year, the past mistakes, blunders and setbacks of our policies in Iraq were used by both of them to season their arguments. I devoted huge numbers of keystrokes to saying that the mistakes of the past were just that, mistakes, but the new strategy had a chance of success. To get any credibility though, I had to be able to admit that the past mistakes were mistakes. For all the criticism of Bush for being unwilling to admit error, the surge came about precisely because he did so, both explicitly and implicitly. So to now beg for all of us to forget the past, when they used it themselves, and with no willingness to admit error, is frankly disgusting given the bloodbath that was avoided.
2. Given that past behavior, or even without it, does anyone believe Hagel and Obama wouldn't be making vicious criticisms of McCain and the administration over the surge's difficulties? Of course not, it has been the lions share of their march to prominence.
3. In the same interview he violates his own request:
Hagel, too, opposed the troop increase strategy, though he acknowledged Thursday it brought about positive changes. "When you flood the zone with superior American military firepower, and you put 30,000 of the world's best troops in a country, there's going to be a result there," Hagel said.
Whether the surge worked, though, can't be measured, Hagel said, arguing the small gains came at a high price. He said President Bush's decision last year to dispatch an additional 30,000 troops to Iraq has cost more than 1,000 American lives and billions of dollars.
I thought arguing about the surges success, or lack of it, was something we need to stop?
Let us not ignore his characterization of the improvements as small. When violence falls by 70%, 80% or 90% we can only reason that he thought the situation wasn't very severe in the first place to justify the derisive assessment of "small gains." Obviously there was no need for "large gains."
Sorry Chuck, how you and Obama are handling this issue now is precisely the issue of the moment. Hypocrisy and dishonesty are always an issue, and if the past isn't as important as the future, we do expect you to know, or at least acknowledge, what the past was, especially your own.
Update: I think there is actually another aspect of this that I have not made explicit. The "small gains" remark specifically. This kind of remark has a subtext to it, that is often present, but rarely explicit. We lost 1000 lives and billions of dollars obviously sets a calculation in place which sets Iraqi lives as being of extremely low value. I am not saying that isn't a valid way to feel in terms of policy, however, that is never said clearly, and allows people who are very proud of their humanity and charity to skate by without challenge.
If Chuck Hagel and Obama want to believe that, I think they should forthrightly say it. "Granted, the violence has dropped dramatically. Tens of thousands, if not more lives have been saved, for now. However, even if true, it is not worth the lives of Americans, or the billions we have spent, to avert those lost lives."
They won't say it, even though we all now it, because to say what we all know to be true leads to a moral and intellectual dissonance with the rhetoric of the left and their own self image.